Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

On SNAKK Media, Derek Handley and Kiwi Entrepreneur Success


The Snakk Media AGM, appropriately held in the Sir Paul Reeves Building of AUT in Auckland last night, appeared to be a classic event, with typical investors, asking typical questions. However, in my opinion, it wasn’t, it was a meeting in a room made up of some of the finest minds in marketing and leading edge mobile technology.

SNAKK AGM

SNAKK AGM

I was very proud to see entrepreneur, Derek Handley, on the stage surrounded by other Kiwi business leaders and visionaries including Tim Alpe, Max Flanigan and GM, Andrew Jacobs who I met for the first time last night.

I’m sure the media will cover the story, but here’s my take; on a tangent. I have always believed in Derek, his family and team from the day I met them, many years ago as they were preparing to found The Hyperfactory. They were the classic start up and I admired their passion and enjoyed their company, because they were driven and they were passionate about the same things I was, and still am. I love the company of positive, can do, will do people.

Snakk has allowed Kiwi investors to invest in a company that may never do a huge amount of business in New Zealand, which is really exciting, because it is not an opportunity that comes up often. As was pointed out, 2 years ago mobile digital advertising spend in New Zealand and the UK was 1% of the total spend. Today in New Zealand (where I have been trying to educate agencies on location based marketing and Augmented Reality, the percentage remains at 1% and in the UK is now 23%. In Australia they have the third fastest growth in the world (sic) of smartphone and tablet users, so it is appropriate for their head office to be in Sydney.

There was a lot of discussion about the threat to live TV with so many people now streaming to their mobiles and time shifting. Snakk didn’t mention all the technologies, but I am confident that they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves so that people like me who watch a reasonable amount of TV, while using my iPad or mobile, and MySky, will also be able to receive the messages I want. 

Here’s where I get excited. I want, and assume you will too, my TV. When it comes to advertising, I’m a marketer, but I don’t generally like watching ads. I guess the main reason is because most of them are not relevant to me, or at least not relevant to me at that time. I want them when I am open to buy.

So here are some of the things that I wanted to hear (and did either directly or between the lines):

  • Profile. I want ads that match my profile. Having them appear on my third screen (my mobile or tablet) in conjunction with what I am watching, based on my interests is something I might welcome. If there is an interaction between my device and the TV program, then it may not matter if I am watching live or time-shifted, depending on my:
  • Context. A lot of the future of mobile advertising comes down to an app on my device knowing things about me. What I am interested in, where I eat, drink, play, get entertained. What I am interested in at certain times of the day or day of the week. Market food to me at a time I am likely to be considering a meal. Then of course there is:
  • Location. If my mobile knows where I am, there is so much more you can do. If I like coffee, I’m walking downtown and there is a cafe that wants my business, let them send me an offer together with a reward of free WiFi.

On another tangent, the awesome podcast from Asif Khan and Rob Woodbridge of the Location Based Marketing Association: This Week In Location Based Marketing mentioned that where a geofence is used for guerilla based mobile marketing, they get a 12% click through rate. Just to explain, imagine you walk into Burger King and your mobile bleeps you a notification offering you a free upsize if you go to McDonalds up the road and buy a Big Mac combo.

This is where people started to get excited and concerned about privacy and I need to mention the MAC, pun intended. Effectively it is possible for apps to learn about you and your behavior without having your personal details. Effectively they track your mobile, not YOU. It’s not quite that simple and that is why in the early days of The Hyperfactory (I didn’t actually work there, I suppose you could have called me a Hyperfactory groupie) we started to set up a Mobile Marketing Association, with the view of self regulating to ensure the Government didn’t over regulate. The key was around allowing people to know what information was held about them and giving them the right to revoke access to it.

This blog is getting way too long, so I’ll finish with a few quick thoughts on Foursquare. I wish I had paid more attention to Derek having shared an office with Foursquare, I think I made a mental note to talk to him about that, but I didn’t. Maybe I still will.

The question was asked as to whether Foursquare was viable and the general answer from the panel was, not really. Derek was more retrospect and pointed out that the issue in New Zealand has always been one of scale. In New York City scale isn’t a problem, the population is over 8 million people. They can afford to have sales people in NYC and its easy to segment them.

In New Zealand there are actually a reasonable number of users, but Foursquare hasn’t really been interested in them because we are too small. I briefly became a Foursquare Ambassador and saw big opportunities for proximity based marketing. I saw a business model for myself with Foursquare, but they would not allow me (or anyone) to manage multiple businesses on behalf of customers. Each account had to be managed individually and for New Zealand that was a fatal flaw.

For those who think Foursquare is out, have a read of this story from Fast Company.

Did you go last night? What did you think? I think this is going to be a very successful global company and look forward to being involved somehow, if only only the sideline. I have watched and met many successful people over the years through my business network and Derek Handley is a Kiwi that remains underrated imho despite all he has achieved to date. In my opinion the shares are well undervalued right now. I’d recommend at least buying a few.

Footnote: I do not own any shares in Snakk Media. I do not work for Snakk Media in any capacity. I would seriously consider both though:)

Congratulations to Julie Landry, Vaughn Davis and the team for an excellent event.

It’s Hard For Retailers To Embrace New Mobile Marketing Technology


I’ve been engaged in a conversation in a mobile marketing group LinkedIn discussion where people involved in solutions such as mobile coupons are complaining that retailers are intellectually lazy and not looking to embrace new technology.

I argued that most retailers focus on BAU (Business As Usual), working in their business employing strategies and technologies they have used for years, which they understand and can deal with. They do not spend anywhere near enough time working on their business, including strategies to embrace new technologies.

sold outMany retailers have been hurt by one-day deal companies, where they gave up 50% and more in GP in the hope that if they gave great service, they would win new loyal customers. Of course we now know that didn’t work and the only ones that made big money out of it were one-day deal companies. They didn’t have to invest in inventory or carry any risk to speak of.

I’ve presented at a number of conferences on the topic of mobile and location based marketing. What I found really sad was that of all the delegates, the number of retailers at these events could generally be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been looking at how I could help retailers, particularly in New Zealand and Australia with solutions available today in a cost effective way. I think I have come up with a solution, but its going to take me a fair amount of time and money to deliver.

I will start in the area of Travel and Tourism, largely because they are more focussed on customers who are actively looking for services and new experiences and the industry is used to investing to win new business. Their market is also tough and the traditional business services continue to largely support those who own the systems, ie reservation engines, directories, commissions to tour operators, rather than retailers themselves. These businesses are easier for me to access and easier to quantify direct ROI. Also the individual transactions often have a higher dollar value, so if I can demonstrably increase their cashflow and profit and share in the gain, I can recover my costs more quickly.

I was thinking about how hard it is to get retailers out of the shop to talk to them and from years of calling on owner operator retailers in the past, trying to talk to them in their own environment with customers in store, that’s all but impossible.

So I’m thinking retail readers, if there are any here, and would welcome your feedback on the best way to get in front of you and your peers. The problem is that most of them will never read this. The majority do not attend retail conferences, they don’t even participate in their own main-street organisations. They don’t even do something as simple as co-promote their neighbours. I remember years ago hearing Mark Blumsky (past retailer and Wellington Mayor) talk at the New Zealand Retailers Association conference about how he collaborated with his neighbours by giving away free coffee coupons at the next door cafe to people who bought shoes from him and the cafe gave discount coupons for shoes to their patrons. Leading retailers (because they were at the conference) all talked about it during the lunch and coffee breaks, but I don’t know if a single one of them ever emulated the exercise.

We have amazing free services such as Foursquare and people have probably used one of these apps to check into your store. They may even be your Foursquare Mayor, but you probably don’t even know what Foursquare is.

You need to embrace mobile technology and I want to help. But you’re probably not reading this, so you will have to wait until I have helped some other people first. If you are reading this, leave a comment, connect with me and others who want to see Australasian retailers thrive and grow in this exciting new world. Learn at your own pace, but please step outside of BAU and do something. One little step a day is 365 steps a year and that’s quite a lot.