Do Only Fools Limit the Data They Collect?
It was late, we’d just had dinner with half a dozen publishers, and I was talking over drinks with Brett Keirstead about data and B2B media. Sounds boring, I know; and with most people this topic would have been a waste of perfectly good after-hours time.
“Are we being idiots?” we wondered. Keirstead is SVP of sales and operations at Knowledge Marketing in Minneapolis. He has a front row seat to the trials and tribulations of B2B publishers as they work to take advantage of their audience data. We talked about the realities of big data, where virtually everything about you and me is for sale – what school your kid attends, what car your spouse drives, and how much you owe on your mortgage. Are publishers being non-strategic and self-defeating if they do not compile every conceivable bit of information about those in their markets? Are hyper-intrusive data purveyors our competition, if not today, tomorrow?
I draw my line at collecting data with information that is publicly available or activities you take when communicating with my company. If you are registered as a member of the Amalgamated Astronauts of America, I am completely comfortable with scraping that and checking you as an astronaut in my database. You subscribe to Astro Weekly? Check. If you read articles about spacewalk best practices, I am good with appending that to your record.
I hate that based solely only on my IP address you can buy my phone number and address. That requires snooping to obtain. You can buy more information about me than I know myself, without checking. I grew up when there was such a thing as privacy. I’ve spent a lot of time covering the topic of privacy in my publishing career. The fact we have apps on our phones spewing unimaginable amounts of personal data without our knowing bothers the hell out of me. Does the fact that other data vendors have this information about individuals in your market mean, as we asked that late night, that you are hurting your company by not becoming as intrusive as possible?
You will need to decide. It is likely you cannot gather this level of information today if you wanted to, so you have time to think about it. My last two blogs were about using audience data to increase profits and my next blog will be about gathering more data to do so. To me, the following items cross the line (I’m sure I’ve missed some things):
- Reading the documents on someone’s computer, their emails.
- Tracking personal whereabouts without permission.
- Adding religion, politics, or sexual interests to their data records.
Here is where it gets tricky because I guess I’m a data prude. What business is it of yours to plant trackers on my laptop to monitor my search activity and web browsing outside of your website? If you were a neighbor and did that, I would slug you. That belongs on the list above. But for all I know, hundreds of entities do that to me. I am fairly certain that LinkedIn tracks everything we all do – and they are working to be your biggest competitor! What’s a publisher to do?
Five years ago The Wall Street Journal did a series on web tracking. They unwrapped a virgin laptop and visited the 50 most popular sites on the internet. A total of 3,180 tracking files inserted themselves onto the PC. I bet if they repeat this in 2016 the numbers are up, not including tracking codes which are undetectable and/or illicit.
Do an untold number of companies gather this sort of information about all of us? No doubt. Is there a right and a wrong or just a smart and a stupid? You be the judge. But whatever you do, I encourage you to not make these decisions casually.
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Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.