Word on the street is that Unisys is starting to bust down the Business Intelligence / Web Analytics barrier (BI/WA barrier)

As Shaina Boone has said before, web analytics software was always just a stopgap between the eventual evolutions of BI integrating with the web channel. It all made sense to her while she was taking her course on BI and data warehousing…and that makes sense to me too.

While in Vancouver, I warned, twice, that our entire industry would be just one disaster away from feeling very severe consequences. I’ve noted on this blog that we’re in need of some very conscious legislation that really cracks down on the abusers of data – for all of our sakes.

Why the sudden uptick in risk? Haven’t marketers always had this ability?

Well – no, we haven’t.

Some people assume that I, as a web analyst, can track you – the reader, individually. One commenter on Garth’s blog noted that he was uncomfortable with notion of yet another layer of strangers getting access to their data.

Well, I can’t identify people individually. I can identify a number of factors about a person – such as IP address, but that doesn’t enable me to link something back to a user directly. Moreover, it’s very difficult, given the state of the software, to construct an overall profile of a single person’s habit – without, of course, requiring a sign in function and using BI software. AH! See, now there’s the rub, right? BI technology enables the collection of highly personal information into an actual usable storage format.

Web Analytics data equips me with huge amounts of aggregated, anonymous data. And this is great. Much advancement in the Internet you use as a person has been derived and driven from this trove of data. Everybody benefits when Web Analytics data is acted against – customers get better experiences, managers get their due, the economy benefits from a higher optimized spend, and companies enjoy better returns for their marketing dollar.

BI software equips us with a huge amount of anonymous, personalized data.

With the ability to record a single user’s behavior, to de-aggregatize the data, across multiple visits, this opens up an entire world of technology centered on personalization and morphing. The experiences are going to become far more personal, and in most cases, way better, as a result of these technologies. However, we can still retain a high degree of anonymity.

A marketer, theoretically, doesn’t need to know precisely who you are – your actual identity, to make decisions on how to morph a website. A marketer doesn’t need your full name, your social security number, and your extended family tree to make those kinds of decisions. They just don’t.

Besides, there are natural limits to what this personalization technology should and can do. One person, at a Sunday night party that is the stuff of Toronto legend, remarked that he didn’t know how to feel about Facebook’s advertisers always telling him that he’s fat every time he signs on.

That’s the great fear here. The Exxon Valdez of Privacy is going to be one where person, without any regard or knowledge of the difference between anonymous personalized data and personal data, is going to go way, way too far, and it’s going to raise the ire of the public like nothing we’ve ever seen. We’ve already had all sorts of stolen data that are loaded with personal information seep out over the years (looking at you, Winners)…but this one might be different. In fact, Facebook might end up being that Valdez.

So here’s the crucial difference. We can push forward in beating down that BI/WA barrier, but let’s always make sure we’re disassociating the personal names and data that could potentially harm people. Let’s make sure we’re always deleting those keys from the personalization engines. Let’s all remember that individuals always have the right to see their personal information (in Canada, thanks to the privacy commissioner) and act as though those upon whom we watch are equally able to watch us. Not because they can and because they are, but because we should be doing unto others as though they were us. (To quote Carrabis – “cut out the middle man”).

Exciting times yes. Let’s just make sure we’re doing good and mitigating as much evil as possible.

One thought on “On the Exxon Valdez of Privacy

  1. From Joseph Carrabis via Email, quoted with permission:

    First, great post.
    Second, I can’t tell you how honored I am to have one of NextStage’s Principles (http://www.nextstageevolution.com/principles.cfm) quoted. It means a great deal to me to know that people are paying attention and (I hope) gaining a better understanding of themselves and their world because they’re paying attention.

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