Privacy in the digital and physical world

By Greg Fincke, Managing Director, Equiteq

It’s been widely reported that Yahoo and AOL, both owned by Verizon’s business unit Oath, are reading users’ emails to more effectively target advertising.

The WSJ moves beyond the headline issue of privacy and into the privacy trade-off users make with their free email providers. There is an interesting connection here to the concept of “razors” and “blades”, discussed in a previous post.  Email could be seen as the razor to Oath’s blade, i.e. how they make money, online advertising. Trying to monetize their “expensive” razor is proving tricky. At the very least it has generated plenty of media attention regarding privacy concerns.

The WSJ article references Yahoo’s ad-free email service for $3.49/month. There have been attempts at pay-for privacy social media platforms in the past. It is interesting to think about the digital assets available to consumers and the price of privacy. My sense is most of us have always thought of online ad targeting as benign. But as we shift more of our lives to the digital world, learn more about how our data is being used (sometimes after the fact), and start questioning where the boundaries are it begs the question: is there a future for digital pay-for privacy?

People with far greater expertise in this area have weighed in, but for our clients in the knowledge economy introducing this model would be a profound change. As IT services, management consulting, and marketing converge into a holistic approach to get closer to customers, turning off the social media or search information spigot would be extreme. So what tools or tactics might brands use to understand customer behavior?

Fast Company had a recent article on New Balance’s use of AI at New York Fashion Week. In short, New Balance and their digital partner set up cameras and developed tools to spot individuals who are breaking from the fashion norms. Those spotted receive a free pair of New Balance shoes. It’s creative use of technology to understand customer behavior and preferences in the physical world. It also proof of emerging technology’s ability to bridge the gap between a company’s understanding of us in the physical and digital worlds, and brands desire to do so.

Even as many still grapple with their comfort level around companies learning about them digitally, the question might already be whether they prefer these insights to come from the physical world.

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