The Internet is watching you

With every digital move we make, someone somewhere, is monitoring that activity.

As consumers, we understand to some degree, that this is happening.  Sites like Amazon have been using personal data to make recommendations etc. for some time now. In fact, we are used to being asked questions when we set up profiles and want the information returned be personalised towards our preferences.  We expect sites to remember who we are and what we like.

picture of good v evil
From NJ on Flickr

But do we, as digital users understand how much of our personal information is being tracked and all the purposes it is being used for? And as UX professionals, where do we draw the line between using customer data to create a better user experience and using it to influence user behaviour?

Smart Data

Tracking user data across services and using it to shape the way users engage with products and services is transforming user experiences as we know them.

Take Google for example and how they mine data across apps and services.  Recently when I logged into Google maps the addressfield was pre-populated with an address a friend had recentlytexted me. And Bingo, this was exactly the address I was about to search for.  Google had put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5.

We can see more and more examples of this context related or ‘Just in time ‘data when the right information is presented to the user at the right time and in just the right context.  Often predicting what the user would like to do next and making it easier and quicker for them to do so.

This makes for a quicker more efficient user experience.

Targeted data

We know that User tracking allows companies to target advertising and marketing based on their users’ online activity such as browsing history and search.  Research we undertook at Paddypower showed us that when adverts were shown in context and were relevant to users’ interests, users were less likely even to register that it was an advert but rather saw the marketing as useful information.  A recent example I have seen of this is the With LinkedIn’s recent acquisition of online training giant they are now able to target learners with more relevant courses based on data mined from users’ LinkedIn activity such as their network or what groups they follow.

Darker Data

Personal Data is big business.

As consumers we regularly input and share our personal information online.  This is generally done in good faith and we expect our information to be both safe and used in an ‘appropriate’ manner. We don’t expect the companies to re-use this information to blatantly retarget us and upsell their products or services. Or worse yet, we don’t expect them to resell or pass on our data to ‘marketing partners’ and/or others.  Take Facebook’s covert ‘emotional research’ project last year, were 1000s of users were unwittingly test research subjects without their knowledge and consent. This provoked an outcry against their unethical use of personal data.

Facebook comprised their users’ trust in their brand. A foolish move when Trust is such a strong currency online. Being upfront and transparent about data collection policies will be paramount in building future loyal customer databases.

Google data policy
Google Data Policy

How can data help us invent the future?

In the Internet of Everything, data will help us to:

  • Create seamless ‘technology ecosystems’; joined up smart experiences across different devices,  platforms and networks
  • Provide just in time, contextual data which will make products and services more pertinent and accessible
  • Harness the power of new technologies that will become more invisible and allow the user to focus more on the experience
  • Build brands that users can identify with, and trust

Not only can we as user experience professionals improve experiences, but smart data will allow us to re-invent those experiences so that they are more immediate, seamless and relevant to our users’ everyday lives.


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