Even If We Knew Who You Are, We Probably Wouldn’t Tell

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Even If We Knew Who You Are, We Probably Wouldn't Tell
D. Geller - April 26th, 2000

Event Summary

Twenty-six companies that have an interest in personalization technology have founded the Personalization Consortium. The companies range from marketing to technology specialists, and have as a major goal developing self-regulation guidelines to avoid government regulation of their industry. Concerns about such regulation have become acute since DoubleClick announced and then was forced to retract a plan for tying online identities with actual names and addresses.

DoubleClick is one of the founding members of the consortium, which will be chaired by Dr. Martha Rogers and Don Peppers of Peppers and Rogers Group, which studies and consults on personalization.

In its first survey on privacy and personalization the consortium surveyed 4,500 Web users. Some of the characteristics of the sampled population are:

  • 97% spend at last two hours a week surfing; 63% spend at least eight hours

  • 85% have made recent purchases online; 49% have spent at least $100

  • 94% are registered with at least one website

  • 97% have provided personal information to at least one website

  • 77% know what a cookie is; of these 62% generally accept cookies, 53% purge their cookie files periodically and only 43% know how to reject cookies.

Thus, while privacy is a concern, it is not a big concern. For example, while it may not be surprising that in order to have a site offer some kind of personalization, 96 percent would provide their names and 95% would provide their e-mail addresses, almost as many would provide that information to a site that did not provide any personalized features.

See Figure 1 for a complete display of the difference between the two cases, and note that about 7% of users are willing to provide a social security number to almost any site they visit!

Market Impact

It will be important to see how the consortium approaches the development of guidelines. DoubleClick is heavily invested in the kind of individual attention that brought it notoriety. It was always the company's goal for this information to be used on a permission basis only, and the more savvy of the protests were focused on pointing out that in their opinion consumers were not well informed about the program and could not easily opt out.

So DoubleClick in theory would be satisfied with guidelines that require better notification and perhaps even explicit "opt in" by consumers, but also knows that the more such features are made known to consumers the fewer will be likely to accept them. (In fact, though, the study results can be read as saying that consumers don't really care all that much.)

Interestingly, DoubleClick's main rival, Engage Technologies, which has a powerful personalization technology that does not require identification of individuals, does not belong to the Consortium. If it did it might have an interest in arguing for restrictions that would interfere with the use of DoubleClick's technology. To what extent there are other sets of conflicting interests in the Consortium remains to be seen - but if there aren't any it's hard to see how the eventual recommendations will have any weight.

User Recommendations

Any company that is engaging in B2C e-commerce should be thinking hard about how best to use personalization on their site, and clicks-and-mortar types will also be interested in tying their retail data to their web data. Anyone not interested in this data, which serves both to hone marketing decisions and to keep visitors coming back, is heading for an e-catastrophe.

So the work of this Consortium has the potential of being very important indeed, and should be watched closely both by companies actively developing personalization tools and by those planning to use them.

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