There’s been a lot written in recent months about GDPR and how it might affect marketers and agencies. This isn’t another one of those pieces. Yes we’re interested in GDPR, but what is more interesting to us is the general trends affecting privacy and personal data.

Using data for marketing

Companies have always tried to collect better information about their customers and surface it to the right stakeholder at the right time. One only needs to look at the proliferation of CRM systems in the last few years, the rise of SalesForce.com and Microsoft’s $26b purchase of LinkedIn to see how valuable customer data is. Getting, managing and using data used to be expensive, but that’s no longer the case.

We’ve known for some time that through a combination of the right marketing platform and a thought out marketing strategy we can extract significant amounts of customer data. Mostly implicit data, but often explicit data – often without the knowledge or consent of the user. For one company in isolation this can provide useful insights into customer needs and help to provide better service and products – arguably a very good thing.

Data becomes a privacy issue

When you take this to its logical end conclusion you are talking about combining data in huge volumes across multiple estates with powerful data analysis routines and machine learning. Soon the man in the street has no place to hide from the system. Have we stumbled into an Orwellian nightmare scenario perpetrated by public and private entities?

That seems like exaggeration, but we know it isn’t. We’re doing some of this right now for our clients! We can see where it is headed. Our tool of choice is Kentico EMS which does much of the heavy lifting for us. We then layer our marketing and strategy expertise over the top

Over the last 12 months we’ve seen greater appetites to share data between systems and consolidate hitherto separate data silos. We’re taking insights gathered from web browsing and sharing it with CRM to provide better sales insight; we’re taking existing customer information from CRM and ERP and using it to manipulate on page user journeys and content. Kentico is great for this.

So where does that leave Joe Public with respect to how he understands his privacy? I think you can divide the public at large into three categories in this respect.

1. The Ignorant

I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of people in the world fall into this category when it comes to online privacy. These are the people who remain signed in to every website they come across for convenience; hand out their one and only email address to anyone who asks; keep all their social media profiles on the default settings; and use the same password for everything.

These are the people who have no idea that the sites they visit are stalking them – they come across “strange coincidences” online and do not see the hidden hand of manipulation behind it. They are the blissfully unaware – the ones GDPR sets out to safeguard. These are people who by and large would be terrified if they knew what went one behind the scenes and how extensive it is, but who only see the good outcomes and never fear that their personal privacy has been compromised.

2. The Ambivalent

If you’re reading this post there’s a good chance you fit into this category. You are probably somewhat familiar about web technologies and how they are being used. You know that you ought to be more careful online and probably would be if you had a bit more time to put into it.

The fact of the matter is that it’s just too convenient to remain signed in to your accounts - and who would be that interested in seeing pictures of the empanadas you had at the weekend anyway? Besides, there is regulation that prevents people doing anything they shouldn’t with your data and that’s about to get a facelift with GDPR. We’ll all be OK in the end.

3. The Deniers

Bar a tiny fraction of the population this is the category I would put everyone else into. We probably employ a few of these in our dev team. These are people who are very aware of what is going on under the hood on a site. They always browse everything in Incognito mode; they keep information to themselves; they supply a different email address and password to anything they sign up to for traceability purposes; and they have visited haveibeenpwned.com in the last 30 days.

These are people who have taken every effort to maintain their anonymity and privacy online. But despite all of this they suspect and know that it’s probably futile. They deny the inevitability of someone finding out who they are, selling that on to someone else who combines it with other implicit data and applies a complex algorithm to it. An algorithm that’s only possible because of the large trend data created by The Ignorant and The Ambivalent

No one is anonymous

…And just like the rest of us The Deniers could one day see their life insurance premiums going up because they once browsed an article on arrhythmia when a friend was admitted to hospital with a heart condition.

Will that ever happen? Maybe it’s too early to tell, but it’s certainly within the realms of believability, maybe it’s already happening. One thing that is certain is that whatever measure you may or may not have taken, the moment you opened a browser and went online your private life stopped being private. You are not as anonymous as you think.