Have you heard about how Target, a large US retailer, discovered that a teenager was pregnant even before her father did? The retailer attaches a Guest ID to credit cards, allowing it to subsequently track consumption habits.
Said teenager purchased a combination of products that (when analysed against consumption data previously stored on customers who had signed up to its baby registries) suggested she was expecting. This prompted Target's systems to send her baby-related coupons, much to her father's dismay. Having adamantly complained to a store manager for 'encouraging' his daughter to get pregnant, he subsequently apologised for his mistake - turns out he had no idea she was already pregnant when she received the coupons.
Digital technology offers media organisations similar capabilities - no credit cards required. Traditionally, a cookie stored on our web browser by a website we've visited in the past sends that website information on our previous activities every time we revisit the site. Today, cookies are accompanied by a variety of snacks, from social sign-in (the act of signing up to a website using social network sign-in credentials, usually allowing that website access to profile data) to advanced analytics tools capable of connecting seemingly unrelated sources of data (think in-house marketing preference data stores with electoral registers) to create a more holistic customer view. The motivation is not necessarily 'money-grabbing' in nature. Often, the primary objective is to improve products and services through personalised content and recommendations - revenue is secondary.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Arguably more reactive than proactive, law makers are cracking down on potentially inappropriate use of user data. Additionally, customers are increasingly informed of their rights and vocal of their griefs. This has posed a unique challenge to media organisations:
How do you find the right balance between improving customer experience through personalisation, and damaging the relationship by falling short of ethical (and legal) responsibilities around the data acquired to deliver that experience?