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Privacy in Technology

What you should know about how businesses use your information...

By Nigel Ang | Co-founder and Product Lead | Kepler Analytics
Consumers review products, companies review...

Advancements in technology mean that value is no longer defined by the physicality of what we own, but what we know. Consumers have unprecedented access to information about products and the companies making and selling them, while retailers have incredible insight into consumer mindsets. Information is the new currency, and this goes both ways.

It’s easy to feel triumphant of the former but suspicious of the latter; companies are public organisations and consumers should be empowered to make the right purchase decisions, whilst the use of an individual’s personal information will always feel invasive. It’s important to note that information is of course not the be all and end all. In retail it is a means to an end - selling more physical goods both online and in Bricks and Mortar stores. Nevertheless, with almost every new technology or service today, privacy concerns will inevitably be raised.

You should be asking questions, but which ones?
Sometimes we act before we think when engaging with retailers both online and in-store. Here are six questions to ask of the services and products we use in our everyday lives:
1. What information is the service collecting?
Name, gender, email address, and phone number. These are the most common information retailers seek, and which we are apparently most willing to give. Yet there are companies who take the ‘kitchen sink’ approach with the information they gather on their customers, just as there are consumers who are willing to hand over every aspect of their lives. Are your place of birth, relationship history or education really necessary for the service you get in return? Oftentimes we are not even aware of what information we give out via cryptic Terms of Service agreements, and even if we do, we have no choice but to accept it wholesale.
2. Does the company have access to more information elsewhere?
The most basic of personal information can be used to tie in with information available elsewhere thanks to the interconnected nature of the digital age. Our name and/or email address will identify us on social networks like Facebook. Our phone number reveals our identity on whichever messaging services we use (eg. Whatsapp or LINE). It’s a practice usually frowned upon, but the more brazen seek to gather as much information from as many sources as possible, and get away with it for as long as they can.
3. How does the company use the information?
We hand over information about ourselves in return for services rendered. Retailers use your email address to keep you up to date with their latest offerings and promotions. Some retailers use your purchase history to customise the messages they send you so that you are not bombarded with irrelevant content, as well as ensure that every dollar they spend on marketing will turn you into a profitable customer. Others still might resell that information to a network of advertisers or other retailers who will then try to get your attention. It is astounding how much can be deduced about an individual with just a slice of information about them, and you should at least be aware of the company's intentions in using your information.
4. Who has access to the information?
Terms of Service agreements are signed with the provider of the service, and that’s usually as far as access to the information goes. The more partners the company has however, the more eyes will want to take a look at that information. Yet on a more granular level, the more technologically sophisticated companies will have restrictions in place that ensure no one person should have unobscured access to all the information available, while some companies might have one technical employee with direct access to everything. Coupled with governmental, legal or law enforcement sanctions, there may be more eyes on your information than is immediately obvious.
5. How securely is the information protected?
Just as there are differences between companies’ approaches to employee access levels, they may not have the same level of security around the information they collect. Any invasion of privacy generally comes about due to oversight from the retailer rather than malice. Even those with the best intentions of keeping your information private may fall victim to external parties illegitimately gaining access if they did not invest sufficiently on the security of their databases.
6. What are you getting out of the service?
Ultimately, it comes down to the trade you are making between the information you volunteer and the service you get in return. Just like the information in question, how much privacy you want is personal. No one would fault you for forgoing certain services if you do not deem the terms agreeable, although it may result in your missing out on some of the benefits of technology. It is unfortunate how these days it’s all or nothing, but in a rapidly changing technological world, these are the choices we have to come to terms with.
For what it's worth...
Kepler Analytics does not collect information about shoppers beyond their devices’ MAC addresses. As soon as we gather that information we immediately scramble that data using a one-way hashing algorithm before storing the data in Amazon’s highly secure data-centres. (See our infographic for more details on how it works.) In English, this means you have nothing to worry about - we don’t know who you are, just that you have a Wi-Fi enabled device. This data cannot be used to collect personal information without shoppers’ explicit consent, thus minimising the risk of abuse by Kepler or any third party. The information gathered is used to understand shopper behaviour on an aggregate level and help retailers provide better customer experience by optimising their store format and staffing.
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