Consumers will shut out brands that aren’t careful with data

Keeping people’s information private could be a differentiator for brands. Companies such as Microsoft, BT and Mozilla are all starting to use privacy to appeal to people – Microsoft in the most overt way with its anti-Google ‘Scroogled’ campaign stating ‘Your privacy is our priority’.

Lucy Handley

Keeping people’s information private could be a differentiator for brands. Companies such as Microsoft, BT and Mozilla are all starting to use privacy to appeal to people – Microsoft in the most overt way with its anti-Google ‘Scroogled’ campaign stating ‘Your privacy is our priority’.

I’m firmly of the opinion that the brands that keep my information to themselves are the ones that I trust. I’m not alone: 83 per cent of people agree, according to GfK research Marketing Week commissioned for this feature.

So much so that I’m currently on a bit of a data shutdown. On my smartphone, I have location services switched off – to the annoyance of Google Maps which states with a big red exclamation mark that it ‘needs’ to know where I am to work properly when I open the app, even though it doesn’t.

If there’s free Wi-Fi somewhere, I’ll only sign up to it if I can opt out of marketing. So I was disappointed when I was in John Lewis recently and the free Wi-Fi web page popped up, stating that I had to tick a box to allow both BT and John Lewis to send me messages. I chose not to and had to make do with 3G, not being happy to give them my information, much as I am a fan of the retailer otherwise.

And Microsoft, which has attacked Gmail for crawling users’ emails for keywords, still pulls my Twitter headshot into my Hotmail account, even though I haven’t given any obvious permission for it to do so.

While the data sharing that John Lewis and Waitrose are doing is clever – for example if someone buys a fridge from the former online, they may be served ads for groceries from the latter – it could be a bit much for their traditional and loyal shoppers if they realise this is happening. People are already freaked out when the fridge they were browsing follows them around the web, although retargeting has been successful for John Lewis.

Eric Williams, an expert in data marketing, warns brands about ‘the creepy factor’. Williams, the former chief information officer at Catalina, an American business similar to Dunnhumby, has a lot of concern about the activities of Google and others. He says that there is a line which should not be crossed. “What would you think if you started getting prenatal vitamin ads on your PC, because Google crawled your email to your brother where you announced you were pregnant?”

The problem for businesses is that everyone’s tolerance to data sharing and use is different and it’s hard for them to gauge. Having various levels of privacy-sharing is one way to go but brands would do best to err on the side of caution.

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