Internet Tracking Trade Offs
I’ve seen references to members of loyalty/rewards programs agreeing to supply information to the company as long as it benefits them in some way. This is for existing customers who want to be rewarded for their frequent shopping behavior. This makes sense. I agree to the same for the businesses I frequent. Caribou Perks, Ace Rewards, Walgreens Rewards, Chuck & Don’s, Famous Footwear, etc. all have privacy policies you can access if you take action to do so. The majority of businesses with loyalty/rewards programs do allow third parties to use your personally identifiable information (PII), are contractually obligated to secure that information and are prohibited from using that information. We supply our information anyway and hope for the best as long as there is something in it for us – rewards!
But what about other information collected by Internet browsers, search engines and apps? They collect data on search terms you used, ads you clicked and pictures you liked, and by using the free service, you agree to share some of your personal information with them. It’s an exchange or trade-off you’re making every day. So, is internet tracking good or bad?
Tracking on the loose!
Let in the marketers who will use tracking technology to craft campaigns to influence the next sale.
Let in the regulators who are pioneering for “Do Not Track” programs allowing consumers to be in the control seat of what information they want and don’t want to share.
Let in the consumers who are either oblivious to the amount of data collected on them, aware but feel powerless, or are completely aware and even pro-tracking as long as it benefits them in some way.
This is the world of Internet tracking we now live in.
In the quest for information, we access the Internet to ask “Alexa, what is the forecast for today?” “Siri, what is the definition of plethora?” or an old-fashioned Google Search for “Mexican Restaurants 55441.” HAHA, silly Internet user, Google already knows you live in postal code 55441, so you could have just searched for Mexican Restaurants. Oh silly, it’s already known through your credit card transactions that you spend a lot on other Mexican restaurants. Perhaps you should just use the search term “Food” and your desired results will be the top rank after the paid search results. That is an example of tracking used to “optimize your user experience.”
Each one of those information queries is being tracked to deliver you targeted advertising the next time you’re accessing the Internet. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s annoying. Sometimes you want to go off the grid because Google knows you better than you know yourself and you need a Kumbaya moment to recharge your batteries to regain perspective.
The goal of the data collected on your Internet behaviors, with good intentions, is to increase efficiency when accessing information and for you to have an optimized user experience. In simple terms, tracking attempts to give you access to the information that is highly likely the information you’re looking for using artificial intelligence (AI) and an evolving algorithm. The downside is that this behavioral information will also be used for financial gain by businesses trying to sell you something.
Can you have one without the other? Not right now, but maybe after some time, regulation and consumer privacy education, it will come to a happy medium in the near future.
Let’s discuss an example of when I wish tracking were used to optimize my user experience. I regularly receive Target Marketing emails because they are full of insight and great nuggets of information for marketers. They don’t appear to be using cookies to identify me, but I did sign up for emails, so they have my information from that opt-in form submit.
When I click through to an article from the email, I’m not reading long before a content-blocking in-house ad pops up asking me to sign up for the email I already get.
By the time I’ve read what I wanted, I’ve been served the same content-blocking subscribe ad about 4-5 times. In this example, I would want the in-house ad to suppress existing subscribers. The only way this is possible without cookies is to track the website visit, positively identify the person reading the article by IP, append identification data (email address), suppress the subscriber database, all within seconds and only then serve or not serve the ad. That would have optimized my user experience in a way that was useful to me.
Now let’s look at an example of a typical retargeting example. I was doing some research for work on referral marketing platforms. Honestly, I did a few searches using the keyword search terms “Referral Marketing Software” and “Referral Marketing Platform” and “Referral Marketing Solutions.” I landed on many different websites, but I didn’t take action to request more information and don’t really remember which websites I landed on.
I was cookied. That cookie session appended my email address using my IP address, and I received an unsolicited email from a referral program provider.
This information is actually useful to me as I am in the awareness phase of my information journey. Was I tracked? Sure, but I got something out of it, so I’m not creeped out or upset. I’m also in the digital marketing space, so I’m very aware of how retargeting technology works and expect these things. I’m sure not all Internet browsing sessions have a happy ending like this one, but in this example, it was a perceived win.