Predictive Personalisation: Boon or Bane?

By Ayan Chakraborty, Vice President & Executive Business Director, J. Walter Thompson, India


Ayan Chakraborty, Vice President & Executive Business Director, J. Walter Thompson, India

Today, Big Data is everywhere. Thanks to analytics and complex algorithmson the digital media space, every website seems to know your likes, dislikes, the last pair of shoe you bought, the last holiday you took, the hotels you stayed in, your preference for a wakeup call, the banks you do business with and the gifts you sent to your partner last week.

When this takes a step forward in the right direction, the website not only remembers your preferences but actually predicts your next move. For example, if you bought a shoe, it will put up display ads of socks for you. If you bought a mobile phone, it will put up pop ups of memory cards or mobile covers. This is predictive personalisation working for you. And this is a function of smart media. Media that is consumed 24 X 7.

Using the data that surrounds our day-to-day marketing activity and a little bit of math, leading companies are using predictive techniques to better serve prospects and sell more.Media platforms like Saavn or Gaana or the more recent entrant to India, Netflix uses predictive personalisation to offer you the next song you would possibly want to hear or the next movie you would want to watch.

Even Google on your smartphone tracks your phone usage habits, your Google calendar and your location to tell you how long you will take to go to your next meeting if you have saved it on your Google calendar. Like magic!While at first sight this seems interesting and intuitive and certainly adds to user delight, what are the caveats?

Does such massive pile of data collected about us and used back on us invade our privacy? Especially in a country where devices are still shared?

Online fraud increased from 11,000 to 45,000– afourfold increase - between 2011 and 2014, a figure that an Assocham report gives us. Experts have expressed concern over the increasing use of social media by Indian banks, saying this transactional platform does not conform to banking security standards and little is being done to educate customers in this regard. Experts say, key information such as username and transaction details disclosed by users can easily be misused by hackers, warning that the risk of phishing or attempt to acquire sensitive information is high even in the present internet banking system.

Is there a way out of this?

Firstly, would you want a way out of this? If you enjoy the experience, why let it go? Technology is getting smarter by the day and this experience will also get smarter and more intuitive. That coupled with the explosion of media vehicles, rise of multiple screens in our lives will help make our experience even better.

Coming to multiple screens, with the cost of display technology getting cheaper by the day and display screens getting thinner, there may be a day in the future where your refrigerator will also be a media vehicle. All it will need is a screen overlaid on the door and linked to a computer inside which is connected to the internet. You will be able to view the morning newspaper on the door of the refrigerator while taking out the milk or catch the sports replay that you missed last night. And with convergence, the refrigerator may well order milk and apples from an online grocer like Grofers or PepperTap as it senses the milk cartons reducing in numbers inside and apples getting consumed.

But what if you do not want this magic and you want to opt out.

What if you are one of many who feel that this kind of prediction is an invasion of privacy, a bane instead of a boon?

Well, for starters you need to be careful of what footprints you leave on the internet. Especially social media. So think twice before giving all your information to Facebook or Google Plus. Think hard before you give open permissions to Apps on your phone to link to social media or collect information for research and diagnostic purposes. Disable cookies in your browser. Or better still, use a browser like Browzar or Epic which doesn’t store web histories or cookies.

Do not think that search engines are harmless. Google's search turn up highly relevant results for most of us but do remember that it is also personalized based on what you've clicked on in the past.Google also has the power to combine your search history with other information from your Google accounts, like Gmail and Google Plus for use in targeted ad campaigns.

The solution? Use a lesser known search engine like Duck Duck Go. And be wary of filling in online forms. Always!

But if you are someone who feels that technology and media advancements are a boon and should be used to the hilt, just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

It should only get better with time!

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