Where, exactly, is the boundary for online privacy? It’s a line that changes almost daily – and a line that business writers would be smart to track.
A recent article in The New York Times illustrates this. The piece reports how sophisticated online e-personalization has creeped out a lot of shoppers, causing them to experience something psychologists call the uncanny valley.
Say you’re shopping for a specific brand of shoes. You go to a few sites to look around, and before you know it, shoe ads start popping up…everywhere. On your Gmail, on your Facebook, everywhere.
Cue the uncanny valley. You suddenly realize that your Internet activity is being monitored, analyzed and exploited. You realize that what may resemble good, old-fashioned customer relations is really a high-tech, customized feedback loop based on your “private” keystrokes and mouse clicks.
The ads are more than just coincidence. By tracking your browsing habits and purchase history, e-personalization companies like Monetate can learn things about you.
The Times tells the story of Urban Outfitters’ marketing director Dmitri Siegel. Years ago, he used e-personalization to market men’s clothing to men and women’s clothing to women. However, he was surprised when some female shoppers (who frequently buy men’s clothing) complained about the company’s gender-stereotyping.
So, limit personalization to a few broad categories. For example, offer discounts to first-time visitors, making them more likely to buy. Or, market winter coats to people in cold climates.
PS: Here’s Monetate’s response to the Times article, saying that balance is the key when it comes to e-personalization.
Personalized on-line ads may LOOK real. When we realize that they’re really the result of Internet overlords stalking us, it tends to creep us out – an impulse that psychologists call the uncanny valley. Kind of like how you feel when you watch this scene from Aliens.