I recently took my mother to a community theater performance of "The Music Man." Since my mom is in her 80s and has some trouble getting around, I picked a theater close to where she lives that would be easy for her to navigate. We both enjoyed the show a lot and it was great spending the day with her. The story I'm about to share isn't really about the theater experience but a related customer experience that occurred earlier in the day. As I was on my way to pick up my mom, one of my sisters send me a text message on my smartphone asking if I could take a look at an antique floor lamp in my mother's apartment that had a faulty light socket. After scoping out the fixture, it looked to me like it needed to be replaced. I texted my sister that I'd try to stop at a Home Depot after the performance if time permitted and pick up a new light socket.
A few minutes after sending the text, I received an email offer from Home Depot for light sockets. Coincidence? Not likely.
The wireless carrier I use shares customer data with advertisers. These advertisers then use this data to create targeted online ads. When users like me sign up for this carrier's service, they agree to allow the carrier to use their location, information gleaned from web searches, app usage, and other data. The carrier then supposedly strips out any personal identifiers from this data and pumps it out into reports for advertisers to use. I probably clicked a box agreeing to this when I first signed up for the wireless service years ago.
Some people get creeped out about receiving messaging like this. Others find it extremely unsettling. Me? I felt a little weird about it at first but I got past it. I guess I fall into that group of consumers who are willing to share personal data about myself so long as there's some perceived value in the messaging I receive in return.
But not all customers are comfortable with having their personal data shared with advertisers and such practices could be subject to stricter regulatory enforcement. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently proposed a set of privacy rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that would significantly curb their ability to share data about customers' online activities with advertisers without permission from users. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is calling for ISPs to clearly disclose how data is collected regarding users' online activities
Consumers should have a clear understanding about how companies are using and sharing their personal data with third parties. ISPs, retailers, and other companies that gather and use consumer data should be transparent about their practices and their intentions for using such data. Anything short of this will breed mistrust and strain the customer-company relationship.