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Is Data-Powered Personalization Creepier When it Happens Offline?

11.07.2013
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Survey results, like infographics, make up a depressingly large part of the daily email deluge. And, like almost every infographic ever made, most of these surveys are a complete waste of time. They’re blatantly self-serving, and based upon laughably small sample sizes. Every now and then, though, one that’s a little more interesting will arrive. One of those is the latest IT Risk/Reward Barometer from the Information Systems Audit & Control Association (ISACA).

The survey is actually a collection of related pieces of work. 2,013 ISACA members in 110 countries were polled in September 2013. More interestingly (to me, at least), M/A/R/C Research surveyed 1,216 US consumers, 1,001 Indian consumers and 1,001 Mexican consumers. Around the same time, OnePoll surveyed 1,000 employed consumers in the UK.

Before getting into the survey’s main area of interest (consumer attitudes to the Internet of Things), respondents were asked a few questions about their attitudes to online and offline personalization.

First, they were asked

“If you were shopping at a store (in person, not online), would you find any of the following to be invasive?”

isaca-offline

I’ve shortened the possible responses, to keep the graph legible;

  • greeted by name = A store clerk you don’t know greets you by name and knows you have been there before.
  • texted while passing = A store texts you information about specials at their store as you walk past.
  • texted on entry = The store sends a discount coupon to your phone when you walk through the door.
  • all fine = I would not find any of these to be invasive.

Mexican survey respondents appear significantly less concerned about these practices than respondents in other territories. On average, almost 33% of respondents suggested that none of these offline practices would be considered invasive.

Moving online, respondents were asked

“If you were shopping online, would you find any of the following to be invasive?”

isaca-online

Again, I’ve shortened the possible responses for the sake of legibility;

  • uses site history = The web site recommends products to you based on your last purchase at the same web site.
  • uses other history = The web site recommends products to you based on your browsing history (at this site or other sites).
  • knows your location = The web site knows your geographic location (eg city or zip code).
  • all fine = I would not find any of these to be invasive.

This time, Indian respondents appear to take a notable dislike to use of their data. They are more concerned (43%) with a website knowing their previous purchase history than they are with an unknown human store clerk greeting them by name (38%). This seems bizarre, and I can’t help wondering if there was something about the way the question was asked which provoked such a different response? If not, there’s an important message for websites seeking to serve an Indian audience!

On average, almost 38% of respondents suggested that none of these online practices would be considered invasive.

There’s clearly plenty of nuance to explore, but a few thoughts emerge:

I’m very surprised that more people didn’t object more strongly to strangers greeting them by name

I suspect that sending discount codes to phones confused respondents; does the store need to know your phone number to do it? That’s presumably of greater concern than some less personalized interaction?

There’s nuance in the degree to which a web site knows your location. A full UK postal code is getting a little too close for comfort, but knowing which city or region you’re in could be useful.

Web site recommendations based upon purchases elsewhere caused some concern, but I’m surprised there wasn’t a lot more.

Published at DZone with permission of Paul Miller, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)