There’s a new business logic which permeates most of today’s online commerce. The ABC is no longer Always Be Closing, it’s Always Be Creeping.
But even as behavioural advertising evolves and targeting becomes more sophisticated, sometimes companies may wish to be subtler when offering targeted ads to consumers. In a much-cited New York Times article from 2012, a former employee of Target said that
Tene and Polonetsky (2013) argue that it’s not the data collection itself which is creepy, but how statistical analysis is used to come to certain conclusions about you.
This is especially the case when “offline” purchases are combined with information on online behaviour, a practice referred to as “onboarding”. We have grown accustomed to personalised ads based on web browsing or Facebook likes, but today’s marketers want a complete picture of our everyday transactions as well.
Whether or not one sees this as invasive is up to each and everyone to decide, but one can bear in mind that one of the industry’s lead data brokers, Acxiom, has “information [on] about 700 million consumers worldwide with over 3000 data segments for nearly every U.S. consumer (FTC report, 2014).” Combined, the biggest data brokers have billions and billions of records on people and businesses.
Federal Trade Commission, 2014: DATA BROKERS: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.
Tene, Omer and Polonetsky, Jules, 2013: A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy and Shifting Social Norms [September 16, 2013]. Yale Journal of Law & Technology, 2013. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2326830.