Remember the scene in the “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise walks through a mall and, via facial recognition and retina scans, is targeted with ads designed specifically for him? This sci-fi fantasy may not be as far-fetched as we thought.
In light of October being National Cyber Security Awareness Month, I spoke with a few experts on the topic of data privacy and how it affects marketing. Our discussions led to speculation about what marketing might be like in the next 10 to 20 years. I was left feeling both ecstatic and terrified because I have stakes on both sides as both a marketer and a Millennial—a key marketing prospect in the years to come.
The evolution from targeting demographics to one-to-one individual interactions at scale can be attributed to our personal devices seamlessly connecting with other devices and sensors to generate data that is then collected by a variety of entities, including governments, brands, and agencies. As more devices are introduced to the fold, the data gathered will increase as well. As time goes on, the insights pulled from the data will be more descriptive and personal.
This change is happening much faster than you think. According to Chris Jacquet, chief information security officer at Hitachi Data Systems, there will be an estimated 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2020. Compare that to the less-than 9 billion connected now. All of the devices associated with each individual will provide data that can be leveraged by marketers to further their understanding of how to better serve their target audiences’ needs. This has already started to occur via smartphones, smart watches, smart cars, etc. Marketers who are taking advantage of this ability are pulling key insights about consumption, buying, viewing, and social habits and sending time-sensitive push notifications and messages when an individual is most receptive.
As Jacquet told me, the capabilities will continue to evolve. “The connections will soon go beyond the devices that we know are connected. It’s going to the devices that we’re not necessarily conscious of—your thermostat, for instance,” he said. “Marketers can know how warm you like your home, combined with other devices’ information, that will all be a part of your profile. It can be anything—the lock on your door, the radio, your car, your TV, your microwave, etc.”
So what’s the flip side? Think about the consequences of personalized marketing becoming a little too personal. For instance, when you search for a Honda Civic on Google and two days later you see an ad for Toyota on Facebook, it’s not a big deal. However, when you search for lung cancer symptoms and the next day start seeing recurring ads about related treatments, “that’s when you start infringing on personal privacy and people get upset,” Jacquet said. “Health is one of those sensible subjects.”
I’ll admit that the thought of being targeted in such a way has me feeling a bit unnerved. Through a profile derived of thousands of different data points, brands might know more about me than I do myself. Given that it will be another few decades before marketing could be as developed as the scene depicted in “Minority Report,” the Millennial generation, who will by then make up the majority of the workforce, will be the primary target audience. Thus, Millennials have a lot at stake when it comes to their personal privacy.
“Twenty to 30 years from now, the notion of privacy as we know it, will likely not exist,” Jacquet said. “There might be certain data points that will be protected, but with the degree of data analytics that we get today, and the rate of exploration of data that commercial data aggregators and governments are ‘mining,’ personal privacy is likely to be very different.”
What can Millennials do now to prepare? Step one, get informed. “Companies are going to continue to collect data until someone tells them not to,” said Dave Tyson, chairman of American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). “If Millennials wait for the government to speak up, then it’s going to be a longer wait. There are tools available to all. Millennials being born digital should have a higher level of comfort with this digitally connected lifestyle—if we wait until someone is hurt to take action, it may be too late.”
In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will attempt to give citizens back the control of their own data privacy in the European Union. The effects of this will, in turn, likely sway what the United States plans to do. That said, this is merely a step in the right direction. “Identity is a relative thing,” Tyson told me. “It’s hard to say, ‘Where did my privacy get lost?’ Compare that to the kinetic world. There is no online law enforcement that will tell you what not to do.”
In conclusion, marketing is rapidly evolving, and data is a catalyst. Every day an additional 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created, much of which is collected by different entities. The majority of it is not used at the moment, but that will change. The question Millennials will need to ask theselves is, given that they’ve taken part in creating the data, shouldn’t they have a say in what happens to it—especially when their personal privacy is at stake?