You are a walking mine of information. Companies pay extraordinary amounts of money to specialist companies who record everything you do. From how often you purchase a particular brand of peas, to when you last had a cold. We don’t like to think too hard about the data we give up every day in the most innocuous ways. Your supermarket loyalty card is perhaps the one that we all think of as the most obvious. You visit the store or their website, you buy goods, and the supermarket gets to know what you bought and when. This helps them to plan their future purchasing and bring you the thing you like, or at least that’s what they tell us.
But that area of data collation is pretty benign. No-one is complaining too much about letting Tesco and the rest know what type of cheese they like, and how often they eat it. The new area you should be looking at is the wearables market. Ok, so it hasn’t quite taken off just yet, but it is coming, and in a big way. Several of the major watch manufacturers have announced their intention to get in on the act, and these guys don’t normally follow trends, they are the people who set them.
So what is the problem? Well whereas your supermarket loyalty card or your browser habits can tell a company all sorts of useful information, it can’t quite get to grips with the human side of purchasing. Until now, that has been the holy grail. Retailers have long known that emotional state has a part to play in purchasing. That’s why websites are bright and colourful, and supermarkets spend a lot of time and money planning the layout of their aisles. How they present offers to you can alter your mood. If you are happier, you will relax and spend more. It’s basic psychology which they have known about for decades. Until now they have had to rely on focus groups to assess the likely result of any particular campaign they decide to introduce. Small data groups are limited in their usefulness but they are the only way retailers have to gauge public opinion.
Where wearables add a new dynamic is because they will provide biometric data. Got the Tesco clubcard app on your phone? At the moment that is as useful to Tesco as your clubcard keyring. It doesn’t tell them any more than they have been getting for the past 5 years or so. However, if you have the app, and then buy a wearable, they suddenly can tweak the app and get not only your purchasing habits, but your body responses to the purchases you made. One supermarket has already fitted out their store with LEDs which transmit data to your phone to let you know what items are in the aisle in front of you. Well that’s great, because it means you can be more efficient when going around the supermarket. And that is true. But what it will also allow them to do is gauge how you feel about what you are looking at.
You see, if they know where you are in the supermarket, and what you are looking at (because the LED system is tracking you to exact items) then they can use the wearable to determine your pulse, respiration, perspiration levels etc. These combined can give a pretty powerful picture of your emotional response at any given point throughout the shopping trip. So when you look at a big 50% off sign for your favourite widget, they will know just how you reacted.
Don’t like tomatoes? Chances are your body will respond when you pass them, and the supermarket suddenly knows that they shouldn’t send you offers for their new range of tomato based sauces. That of course is just for the bricks and mortar stores. If e-tailers can get you to download an app for their site, then they will have access to the same information.
Advocates for privacy have long been warning of the dangers of the internet, and the problems giving up too much data can pose. Those very real issues have had little coverage in the mainstream press, because most media have an agenda. They need to sell advertising space to survive, and writing articles telling us hoe evil these advertisers are doesn’t sit well with the accountants. So we have reached a point where we accept that we give up some data in return for a more tailored experience. It isn’t really costing you money, and it doesn’t eat into your time.
In future, the data you provide might not be limited to just the supermarket you choose to shop with. Once the data has transferred, it belongs to the store. So the state of your health is now prime data that your supermarket has. Can they sell it? Well yes they can, and they will. You might find that your wearable is telling them that you have a high pulse and respiration rate, perhaps indicating an underlying health condition. They can then use that to either sell you one of their own healthcare products, or they could sell it on to a healthcare provider who might then try to sell you a medical procedure or medical insurance (and you can’t lie on the form because you’ve already given them data on the state of your health!).
So before you jump on the bandwagon and get a shiny new watch with downloadable faces, think about what the implications may be. Do you want to allow the businesses in your life know about your heart murmur? I’ll lay money that if they asked you in store you wouldn’t tell them.
Like everything in life, better informed is better prepared. Take your time after buying your wearable, and check the terms and permissions of the apps you download for it. They might save you having to lift the phone from your bag or pocket, but could mean you start getting more calls from life insurance companies that you’ll need to screen and filter.