Google has my number. Literally.
Last week, as I prepared to return home from a conference, I opened my Chrome browser and I searched for “Southwest Airlines.”
I planned to check my flight to make sure it wasn’t delayed from storms passing through – I didn’t need to go any further. As you can see in the search results screen shot, everything I needed to know was displayed in the search results. Google already knew that I had a flight coming up (G-mail) and that I was travelling with Fran Stephenson, one of my colleagues. I can only imagine they knew that because she had sent me her itinerary on email and they matched the dates? We didn’t check in to our flights from the same computer, she did on her own computer and I did on my mobile device.
I should have been happy that I had the information I was seeking before I took the step of opening my email and looking up my confirmation number, which was also helpfully displayed, along with Fran’s.
But, I wasn’t. I was a little shocked, to be honest.
But I can see the time, maybe even the next time, when I will EXPECT this kind of service. I have clearly surrendered my data to Google, and they better give me service!
What the Age of Context Means for Marketers and PR
Marketers and Public Relations professionals need to get ready for this expectation, too.
If off-key pitches and misplaced outreaches look bad now, imagine how they will look in what Shel Israel and Robert Scoble have dubbed the Age of Context?
The ability to collect and aggregate data across multiple platforms is allowing companies to provide services to customers that are “right in time.” Like my flight information.
One of these techniques is called geofencing. A sensor is triggered by your GPS enabled phone and offers you a deal when you are in a restaurant. Something like this happened when my colleague Shonali Burke checked in on the beefed-up Foursquare when we were having dinner the other night. She was offered a coupon for a free appetizer. While this was triggered by her check-in, the technology exists to allow her to get this deal immediately, just based on her GPS signal in her phone.
When it first happens, it feels a little invasive and creepy, and it has the potential to really irritate the very people that marketers are trying to reach. As public relations professionals and marketers, we have an ethical responsibility to both understand the promise and the risks of these new technologies. It is easy to get caught up in cool technology and forget the impact it has on those who are the “target” of such campaigns.
In real life it is clear when we violate someone’s personal space, but online it seems harder to find the safe “distance” we need to keep in order to avoid creeping someone out.
Augmented reality is an early application of this concept, with brands using AG as a stunt. Examples abound, like the early Axe fallen angels in stunt 2011, but there are now more practical applications like this app from IKEA to see furniture in your house. And there are many more. The video below shows just a few.
Have you see this contextual marketing at work in your day to day life? Have you used it in the course of your work? What are your thoughts about balancing creativity and privacy?
I certainly recommend reading Age of Context as it delves into how micro sensors will be added in almost every conceivable application, including your clothing. It also looks at the potential privacy issues in each chapter. You can also read and listen to scientists talking about the Internet of Things on this Science Friday podcast.
Great post, Kami!
I also had a Google privacy moment on my last birthday when the Google.com Google Doodle featured Birthday cakes. I shouldn’t be bothered by this (I’m a publicist who has worked with a number of companies in the ad targeting space) but I was. (so I thought your example was creepy)
Facebook sent me a birthday email which didn’t bother me.
With Facebook, I submitted my birth date when I filled out my profile and also received a lot of birthday wishes via Facebook. Though I might have submitted my birth date to Google at some point, but I don’t consider that information relevant to my experience with Google (whereas personally identifiable information is relevant on social networks).
So… companies targeting users also need to evaluate their relationship with users to determine whether their actions are intrusive. What might be OK for a commercial organization like Amazon.com to offer a user might not be acceptable from another organization.
Kami Watson Huyse says
That would of most likely creeped me out, too. I think it has to do with familiarity. We are familiar with people, not brands. Fodder for thought, thanks.
Allen Mireles says
I’ve had the same realization recently… while wearing the PR/marketer hat I’m intrigued with the cool tools and how much is knowable. As an individual, more than slightly appalled. Great post.
This is the delimma. On the one hand, all our information is out there, so why not get and use this immediately, like your return for your flight? On the other hand, it is very, very, big brother, “Enemy of the State”, intrusive. We are being watched all the time, our keystrokes, the cameras placed at intersections and in public places, the satellites in the sky.
So, what to do?
The way I see it, two choices – go completely off grid or accept it and give the eyes a big middle finger and use and appreciate the info you need, delivered as fast as you can type and press enter.
Knowing how much information can be gathered and analyzed as I type even… /shrug
Privacy? Thing of the past. I’ll have to get the book.
I did notice this just the other day on my FB feed. I was offered something with my maiden name, one of those t-shirt/sweatshirt things making the round. Name clan/member. That’s pretty good if they can target me at that level.