Big Brother is Watching, But Do We Care?
I recently asked this question of a roomful of MBA students at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business. Ultimately, the discussion boiled down to their individual comfort levels regarding exposure of personal information. Really, that seems to be what we are talking about these days. How “out there” are you now and how “out there” do you want to be?
The recent revelation that iPhones and iPad users can be tracked without their knowledge shines a light on this very issue. There is more information being gathered about us than ever before.
I really liked how this was discussed in a post by David Pogue, with The New York Times, “Your iPhone Is Tracking You. So What?”
After clearing up some misinformation about where this tracking information is actually stored (not sent to Apple, but kept on the device under a lot of programming mumbo jumbo) and who sees it, he asks, “Who cares if anyone knows where I’ve been?” Really, he didn’t. His whereabouts were posted in this blog for all to see. Apparently, his exposure tolerance is very high.
After asking around, it seems that this recent iPhone/iPad revelation wasn’t that much of a shock. Not really. Like many, I did not suddenly stop using my iPhone and iPad. Still, people are concerned with how much information is readily available and being shared with and without their knowledge. Profiles on the Internet, compiled from multiple sources (including employment, income, hobbies and online behavior), are already common. Does this mean we will soon need personal online image managers? It’s starting to look that way. Look yourself up and get chills.
While all of this information is and can be very helpful for marketers and researchers to be able to gather information virtually for free – is it right? I can’t help but think, is there backlash lurking just around the corner? Our industry depends on respondent cooperation and privacy. If respondents perceive that answering surveys, sharing comments about products, or providing feedback of any kind will lead to more exposure online, it is very possible that they will not participate. It is also possible that market researchers will be lumped in with the very groups that are abusing this information online, whether true or not. Will our industry be able to handle the age of Big Brother? Time will tell.
Chanttel Allen, Managing Director