Is Creepy Dead?

I’ve had beacons on my brain lately.

Start Point Lighthouse, in the south of Devon,...

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I’ll explain what they are and why in a second but they raise a larger question in my mind, which is our topic today:  has the “creepy” factor left us?  Not long ago, the notion of someone, much less some business, tracking our every move and approximating what we’re thinking would be…creepy.  Have we become so immune to the fact that said tracking occurs almost constantly caused us not to even care any more?  Let’s see what you think.

First, why beacons and what are they?  Here is a good explanation:

Beacons are devices that communicate with a shopper’s smartphone in the hopes of improving the in-store shopping experience. When placed in a store, beacons use Bluetooth technology to detect nearby smartphones and send them media such as ads, coupons or supplementary product information. They can also be used as point-of-sale systems and to collect information on those consumers — particularly how consumers maneuver through stores.

Who you are, what you’re looking at, where you go and how frequently you shop there are all part of the equation.  Maybe not so awful.  A store with an attentive staff can generally say the same about any regular customer and the information delivered about a product should be more complete than any clerk can remember across hundreds of products.  Many stores use cameras to do just that.  Apple, of course, is in the forefront of this with their iBeacon.  It’s built into every device – iPhone or iPad – sold in the last few years.  They recently deployed the technology in all of their Apple stores:  what they set up uses the Bluetooth technology of the iBeacon to detect where a shopper is within a store so Apple can send location-specific product information to his or her Apple device.  Helpful or creepy?

That’s one example.  Combine the beacon with an app and it becomes simple to send targeted messages to devices.  For example, at a sporting event, you might get messages providing discounts on concessions and merchandise or maybe even seat upgrades if you’re a VIP.  Of course, in the process a lot of information about you is gathered.

So back to the question:  is it creepy or don’t we care?  If we use credit cards, our purchasing habits are known.  If we use an in-store scanner at the supermarket, how we wander the store is recorded along with what we buy even as we’re offered coupons and discounts.  Is the prospect of a better shopping experience worth giving up yet another remnant of our privacy?  Amazon and other retailers know how we wander their virtual stores via click-tracking.  Why should physical outlets be disadvantaged?  More importantly, when the online experience can be mirrored and continued by a retailer’s brick and mortar store, doesn’t the shopper benefit?

I don’t know how many iPhone users know they have this technology in their pockets already.  I don’t know how many people realize what they’re giving up when they opt-in to this technology.  Google has deployed something in newer versions of Android that will allow retailers to bid on serving ads to people conducting product searches and Google can then track the person via their phone to see if they visited the store.  I do feel that many wouldn’t be quite some comfortable if they knew all this.

Are you, or is creepy dead?

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