Do Not Track — Or, At Least Pretend You’re Not Tracking

24 Mar
Restricted Area Keep Out by Zach Klein

Photo credit to Zach Klein.

The other day I sat in on a webinar about using social media data in marketing.  The webinar was fascinating – and the accompanying Twitter discussion was even better.  Towards the end of the conversation, one of the presenters made the point that marketers need to give customers something in exchange for access to their data.  He named a few possible benefits to consumers, but they were all just dressed up forms of personalized advertising.  On Twitter, I commented that, “The problem is that the things you get in exchange for giving personal data are custom ads – valuable to the company, not you.” Then I sat back and watched the retweets roll in.

Visitor Sign by Chris Pederick

Photo credit to Chris Pederick.

Soon after the webinar, I received an e-mail from Golden Key, a business school honor society that’s long been after me to join.  The email started with the following:


You have visited the Golden Key membership page multiple times, but have not yet completed the online form. Just to remind you…pick up where you left off – your profile information is saved and available for easy completion.

First strike, they called me Margaret.  But, in all seriousness, this e-mail was an example of the problems we had been discussing during the webinar.  The organization is capturing my data for the sole purpose of sending me custom ads that push me down their pre-planned marketing funnel.  Their data capture doesn’t provide me with any value, but serves to provide me with targeted nudges to move me from their e-mail to their website to eventual membership in a neat and orderly fashion.  And I don’t like it.

trap Urbex Oisterwijk by Gerald Stolk

Photo credit to Gerald Stolk.

Yes, I know this is standard industry practice (I’ve long been wishing that my firm’s marketing budget had room for HubSpot) – but most companies are slightly better at hiding it.  When they make the path you’re “supposed” to take too clear, it feel almost like a trap – like your other options are closing off against you and you’re being herded to an unwelcome end.

My concerns/annoyance about online tracking and privacy are nothing new.  During the webinar, one of the presenters also quoted Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, as having said “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it,” – way back in 1999.  Back then, my only web privacy concern was wiping the browser history of my copious fanfiction reading off of my parents’ computer.

Track by *~Dawn~*

Photo credit to *~Dawn~*.

But, as I’ve grown up in my use of the internet, so has the web’s ability to track who and I am what I do.  I’ve written before about Microsoft using social media data to update Word’s canon and recognize that, if anything, Microsoft is probably behind Facebook and Google’s ability to do creepy, creepy things with our data.  Facebook Minority Report, anyone?

This future is coming and I agree with Scott McNealy; we do need to get over our desire for online privacy.  I just wish that marketers wouldn’t rub our lack of privacy in our faces.

Questions of the day: Have you ever noticed yourself being pushed down a marketing funnel?  Did you feel trapped? Are you concerned about online privacy?  Should we just get over it?

One Response to “Do Not Track — Or, At Least Pretend You’re Not Tracking”

  1. mgopsill March 24, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    Hi Maggie,
    I enjoyed this idea. Companies definitely know more than we would like about us and try to use that to promote their business, but I think they need to know whether what they are promoting to us is useful. It’s frustrating when companies try to hard to take your attention, but I guess they have to. In the end, the best products and services find their way to attention through friends and mentors though. Word-of-mouth is probably the best marketing tool.
    Really enjoy your blog! 🙂

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