LOS ANGELES -- Everyone loves Big Data.
Drilling into meta-data to gain insights into consumer behavior for more effective marketing is all the rage. The eponymous book is an Amazon top-seller -- giving fantastic examples of using data to determine which Manhattan manholes will explode, and mining Google searches to find influenza hot spots weeks before it falls on the radar of the Centers for Disease Control.
But in all this sweetness and light lurks a dark side that can have pitfalls for both marketers and consumers, said Kimberlin Cranford, senior privacy and compliance attorney for Acxiom Corp., which provides data-acquisition marketing solutions.
Speaking at the ThinkLA Motor City West gathering last week, Cranford said that some Web-usage tracking software, even the seemingly innocuous cookie, can have big repercussions.
It's a cute reminder if you search online for a Toyota in the morning, and later in the day while checking scores on ESPN.com, a Toyota Camry ad appears on the page. But what if a married man checks his iPad for a Napa Valley resort for a getaway with his mistress, then his wife borrows the iPad later in the day and an ad for said getaway appears? Trouble.
So, philanderers should have a separate iPad for their transgressions, but that's beside the point. It's just the tip of the privacy iceberg, Cranford said.
Even in a supposedly private browsing session, with cookies turned off, Google advertising identifiers still exist, as do other forms of device fingerprints.
"It used to be sensitive information was your social security number, date of birth and healthcare information," Cranford said. "But now it's your geo-location if you are not at home, your biometrics, or social media information your kids are putting online."
Marketers love to use purchasing model data to create large-scale strategies, but Cranford warns of "scope creep."
It's one thing to use modeling for a consumer's Google search for a car, but what if that same search tracked research into sexually transmitted diseases? Such aggregation of data can also lead to discrimination or profiling, Cranford said.
And that's where the real problems start for marketers, in the form of violations of "Consent Agreement" statutes, which can cost millions.
Americans live in an online opt-out culture, which makes it easy for marketers to track their behavior. But if a marketer determines that it's difficult for someone to opt out, "that should raise a red flag," Cranford said.
"There's a difference between, 'Can we do it?' and 'Should we do it?" she added. "You don't want to target a consumer or even a device. Even if it's supposedly anonymous, that can be a problem."