Creepy Or Helpful?

Have you heard that your car is spying on you? Maybe you’re willing to write it off to “oh, so is my phone, my smart TV, my thermostat, etc.” Maybe you’re concerned. If you don’t know anything about it, you can read this piece and learn a little but in a nutshell many late-model cars collect and transmit a lot of information. As the article states:

The information collected includes where drivers have been, like physical location recorded at regular intervals, the last location they were parked, distances and times traveled, and previous destinations entered into navigation systems. A host of diagnostic data on the car is also captured.

This may be a serious issue or it may be just the latest soapbox onto which politicians and others will vault.  Oddly, the concern many people have is less about the cars’ gathering and disseminating data and more about the fact that bad guys could hack into the car and take control from afar.  Nevertheless, I think it raises a good business thought for all of us.  Think this through with me.

  • You get an email from your car manufacturer.  It tells you that based on thousands of other cars  just like yours there is data collected in the past two weeks that says your fuel injection system is failing and to go to the dealer.  You have seen no evidence of problems.  Creepy or helpful?
  • You receive an envelope in the mail from your insurance company notifying you that your premiums are dropping because you have a history of driving near the speed limit and you maintain safe distances from cars around you.  Creepy or helpful?

I think you get the point.  Engineers design these cars, they love data, and what works from an engineering perspective might creep out civilians. We face that issue in marketing with all kids of data gathering.  I think we realize that the data we gather from shoppers – hopefully with their permission and knowledge – are something  shoppers are becoming more willing to offer as long as they reap some benefits.  I think many of us who frequent the web for shopping are long over the creepy factor of personalization although I suspect it’s still pretty prevalent when data from off the web drives marketing messages.

So the answer in my mind is this.  It’s never been easier to track someone and what they are doing.  What we buy, where we drive, with whom we communicate and just about everything else are all readily available data points.  People want promotions and they want emails that are relevant to them.  We can’t, however, allow our desires to be helpful (and to sell something) cross that line into creepy.  We do that when consumers are unaware of what we gather and how it’s going to be used.  I may love my lower insurance rate but I might not be happy when my rates go up if I don’t know the car is sending data to the manufacture who is collecting money from the insurers for the data.

Where do you stand?  Creepy or helpful?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

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