The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Privacy Please!

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In RSR’s recent benchmark report on the state of geo-location analytics in Retail (Location Intelligence In Retail: The Value Of ‘Where’, RSR Benchmark Report, 02/2019), we made this observation:

“In this year’s study, retailer responses indicate that in total only one in three retailers cite consumers’ concerns about privacy and the use of personal data as a top-three business challenge. The good news is that 44% of Retail Winners believe that this is a top-three business challenge. We … believe that retailers need to be proactive at the policy level with appropriate-use guidelines, and will commit to implementing an operational framework to monitor how the company uses consumers’ personal data.

Any talk about consumer data privacy causes me to think of the infamous Apple End User License Agreement. Probably like you, I seem to get an update to the IOS on my iPhone every couple of weeks, and probably also like you I blow right past the fine print (it’s 50+ pages, according to a couple of sources). Over the years the company has been subjected to derision – but it’s not really funny. U.S. public broadcasting site NPR published a piece in March 2019 ( “When Not Reading The Fine Print Can Cost Your Soul “) that touched on the fact that some tech providers try to insert something that’s a little fun – occasionally even prizes for users who slog their way through the entire agreements. But the piece concluded with a quote from the NY Times Editorial Board:

“‘Americans deserve strong privacy protections,’ the editorial board wrote. ‘Consent is not enough to replace them. The clicks that pass for consent are uninformed, non-negotiated and offered in exchange for services that are often necessary for civic life.’ “

Geo-Location Data: Great Opportunity, Great Danger

Okay, so what has this got to do with geo-location analytics? Hopefully, most owners of Internet-connected mobile devices know that the technology sendsa signal that lets the mobile network know where the device is, and that information can also be used by apps and service providers to improve the experience.By accepting the terms and conditions put forward by those service providers, users are signing away their privacy to a lesser or greater degree. Justhow much the user gives up is often buried deep in the legalese.

Here’s an example from another industry, specifically the airlines industry. I received a friendly email from one of my favorite airlines, Southwest, that read: 

Dear Brian:

Congratulations! You’ve been chosen as part of a select group to join the Rewards for Opinions panel. Simply take surveys on your own time, and the points you earn will be posted to your Rapid Rewards® account.

Now I’m a loyal Southwest customer; I trust them and like how they keep their promise to get me where I need to go, on time, with a minimum of hassle, and at a reasonable cost. So I liked the idea of getting some free points in exchange for my opinions. Then… I decided to read the privacy policy.

Well…First of all, the agreement wasn’t with Southwest, but a marketing firm – so that’s my first objection. I continued on, and here’s what the agreement said about how my geo-location data could be captured and used:

Geo-location data. The Application/Services will request your permission to obtain geo-location information from your mobile device, and such geo-location information may be provided by the Application/Services at any time, whether the Application/Services is open or not. If you consent to sharing your geo-location data, in addition to the uses set forth under <Marketing Company’s> “use of information ” below, <Marketing Company> will also use your location information to offer you the option to participate in location-based surveys and market research and/or to share such geolocation data with third party clients to demonstrate certain location and/or traffic patterns of Application/Services participants. In addition, <Marketing Company> may share your geo-location data with third party vendors to identify commercial addresses near your location, such as stores or restaurants. To learn more about such vendors, please visit for a description of the services they provide and how the geo-location data is used, including the vendor’s use of such data for location-based advertising… Geo-location data also may be used by ad networks to provide you with location-based advertising…. “

(This was followed by a set of fairly complex instructions about how to opt out… but I was done by that point).

Red Card foul on Southwest! First of all, I don’t know who <Marketing Company> is and so why should I trust them? Secondly… well, secondly, I thought I was doing Southwest a service by offering my opinions, not the other way around! Where I am when I offer those opinions is (or should be) my business.

Back To The RSR Report

This brings me back to the geo-location analytics report. In the study, we found that,

“There is strong agreement among retailers that the top opportunity to be derived from new location intelligence is to help them target their marketing efforts more precisely than was possible before. New intelligence will help retailers target marketing messages to consumers individually and to target messaging to specific groups or segments of consumers, or specific geo-locations based on local conditions. ”

But the report went on to say:

… <Last year’s report> responses indicated that retailers were relatively untroubled by the potential risks associated with the use of very detailed consumer geo-location information… < but this year>, the largest retailers are the ones most open to using sensitive consumer geo-location data – the number of those retailers who think using <geo-location data provided by mobile network operators> is ‘a great idea’ has jumped in one year from 32% to a remarkable 61%… This attitude is at odds with the focus government regulatory agencies are giving to the appropriate use of that data. For example, in the United States, MNO provider AT&T announced in January 2019 that ‘AT&T said Thursday it will stop selling its customers’ location data to third-party service providers after a report this week said the information was winding up in the wrong hands. The announcement follows sharp demands by federal lawmakers for an investigation into the alleged misuse of data…’. “

Keep It Simple. Keep Your Promise.

The RSR geo-location analytics report goes on to make this recommendation:

“With the dizzying among of possibilities, it’s easy to focus on what’s possible and neglect the enormous amount of risk which comes with using customer location data … Privacy needs to be a cornerstone of any initiative during the planning stages, long before it is ever undertaken. “

Sometimes you just need a good example to make the point clear, and with that in mind I scanned several retailers’ websites to illustrate how to address a promise to consumers that is clear and unambiguous. But I couldn’t find anything that addresses consumer privacy that I would characterize as “simple enough “. For example, Walmart does a really good job of using plain language – in more than 3800 words plus links to more information. Who’s got the time?

Then I remembered a wonderful example of plain, unambiguous, and strong language from the past that almost every American male over age 40 will remember:

“If this hand tool ever fails to provide complete satisfaction, it will be repaired or replaced free of charge. “

Yes, that’s the famous Sears Craftsman warranty – and the company meant it! When I think about the mess that Sears is today, I think almost wistfully about what a great Brand it once was.

Perhaps you think that’s too old fashioned and simple. But give it a try! State plainly in a few words what your Brand promise, re. consumer data privacy is, something like:

“Your privacy is important to us, and we will only use personal data that you have allowed us to capture and save as you direct us – guaranteed.

See how close you can get! It may not be simple to speak plainly, but your customers deserve it and so does your Brand.


Newsletter Articles April 30, 2019
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