All your privacy are belong to us
Adrian, Adrian Girlfriend Sarah and I went to Olive Garden for lunch Saturday.
I remembered an article from Wired Magazine a few years ago where a technology was pioneered that could trap sound within the confines of laser beams, creating a sort of sound tunnel. The idea was that a sound wave could be directed to a human ear and no one else would be able to hear it. So, the article explained, something like a vending machine could call out to specific passersby with a personalized message, without broadcasting the tailored message to unintended listeners.
Don’t ask me why I remembered it at that particular moment–stuff just pops up.
I started talking about how something like that would be an amazing marketing tool, and, just like in “Minority Report,” a store could use an automated system to welcome a patron with a specific greeting.
Sarah wasn’t enthused. “I hate when people try to sell me things,” she said. “I think there’d be a lot of people who’d resist it.”
I wasn’t so sure. I tried to argue that the beginnings of this sort of invasive approach were already here, with spam and bulk mailings, and that the evolution of this micro-macro approach to broadcasting–where messages tailored to the individual could be sent out by the millions to greater effect, would eventually follow.
“Yeah, but spam can be deleted easily. People aren’t going to like stores being pushy,” Adrian said.
“But merchants could tailor recommendations based on your likes and dislikes. They’d know what you might want,” I said.
“People like their personal space. I don’t think you’ll see that sort of thing happen any time soon.”
We went on for a bit. Personally, I agreed with them. I thought it was sort of scary how invasive businesses might become, given the right approaches and technology.
However, if this country is going to stick with this capitalism thing, ever-increasing invasions of privacy to reach patrons with merchandise is inevitable.
Already stores like Kroger and Safeway use individual cards that offer discounts. What people don’t realize is that these cards track what you buy, when you buy it, and match it with your personal information to create a consumer profile. When this information is entered into a large database, merchants can tweak their business to maximize profit, tweaking supply and demand based on regional preference.
It’s commonplace. But why stop with just a profile that tells bulk mailers what to send you in the mail?
Why not use technology like the new Visa swipe card? Instead of scanning in a debit or credit card when paying for merchandise, a user just passes the card over a sensor strip. Bing! Done.
Why not put chips into those cards that can be read by store scanners when they enter the building? Poof, the store knows you’re there. The store knows what you’ve purchased, and what you might be in the market for. A personalized message is played on a screen, telling you that we have some new khakis that will go with that sweater you bought last week.
I, as a businessman, no longer need to rely on unmotivated teens to push my product. Hell, I don’t even need the teens. Automatic check-out stations and a security guard will do away with snooty mall teen workers.
Moreover, I could create a sort of preference profile for each user. A customer could interact with my business on my web site. I could do something like assign a color to that user, based on his or her basic set of consumer preferences (likes tweed or certain colors, for example). Then, as that card enters my store, a series of LEDs light up, highlighting the product that I think that customer might like, based on his or her past purchases (or what I want the customer to like, but that gets in the true origin of “cool” doesn’t it?). Those highlights, coupled with my personalized greeting, allows me to intimately connect with my customer, providing a relationship where the customer gets recommendations to make him or her look better, in exchange for store loyalty.
Hell, I could run with it and make it a little like MySpace. I’d put the men and women’s clothes together so the “Aqua” guys and “Aqua” girls could chat about how they like that type of clothing. I’d even beam conversation openers to that young man’s ear when I see him notice that cute girl.
Creepy? You watch. I’ll make it happen.
As we were leaving the Olive Garden, Adrian got a voice-mail from Optimus Prime. It was a prerecorded message, tailored to Adrian, talking about how his friend “Todd” was in danger of joining the Decepticons. One of the ways he could help fight the war was to purchase a copy of the movie “Transformers” on DVD, out this Tuesday.
“Isn’t that cool?” Adrian said.
I’m telling ya, people are going to want this sort of privacy invasion. All I have to do is entertain them a little and have them fork over the cash.