WHEN PERSONALISATION GETS CREEPY

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This week the privacy debate was again raging on social media platforms, courtesy of the release of Spotify’s new terms and conditions. Aside from wanting access to the location of your device, the contentious issue was around their statement that they would be accessing the users PHOTOS and CONTACTS.

Now there is nothing odd about this request. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all request access to your photos (so that you can post from your Camera Roll directly to your account). Linked In and WhatsApp require access to your contacts so that you can use the information therein to connect with friends and colleagues. So why was there so much fuss?

But fuss there was. Thousands of users threatened to leave within hours. High profile online celebrities, like Minecraft creator Markus Pearson, told his 2.4m twitter followers he was closing his Spotify account. Social media instantly lit up, mainstream media soon followed (who doesn’t love a good ‘evil corporation’ story), and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek was at his desk writing a blog post to apologise before his entire product collapsed around him. He had become a victim of the Personalisation versus Privacy see-saw.

Personalisation V Privacy

Because one of the major trends and demands of the millennial consumer is PERSONALISATION, its counterpart, Privacy, is a topic I am asked about regularly after delivering my Digital DNA keynote speech. During Q&A there are always raised hands to pose the PRIVACY issue. Where is the line between Personalisation and over-stepping the consumer’s privacy concerns? It is a good question and my answer is always two-fold.

Firstly there are rarely PRIVACY CONCERNS from this generation of Gen Y consumers. The ‘privacy’ debate is usually brought up by those aged 40+, on behalf of this younger consumer. Industry officials fawn over it and government policy makers worry about it.  The millennial consumers seem far less concerned.

They already know that nothing comes for free. They have grown up in a world where their every interface has been personalised, from their laptop home screen to their Amazon and Google searches. They have always known that a ‘cookie’ was more than just what arrived at your table to tell your fortune at the end of a Chinese meal. They are used to Apps and Google tracking their every move. For them the world has always been like this. In fact if Google Maps DIDN’T know their location at every moment they would be quite upset. You would have to do a LOT to anger a millennial consumer when it comes to personal data abuse. They just inherently trust the system.

Always Keep Your Receipt!

The ways things are done have always changed. To this day, my mother keeps each ATM receipt and checks them against her bank statement at months end (by the way that is not my 72 year old mother pictured below. It is a stock image. We would ALL be keeping our ATM receipts if it was the secret to eternal youth!)

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She didn’t grow up with ATMs and inherently clearly still distrusts the ‘system’. Many years later having yet to catch the bank out, she does her balance check (to be fair she was an accountant all her life!). This is what the Privacy issue is like for Millennials – telling them to keep every ATM receipt just in case. They just trust the system.

Now I did say I had a two-fold answer (just to see if you are paying attention!). The second way to look at privacy is from the cost: benefit perspective. As long as there is a value or added benefit to the data shared, personalisation beats privacy any day for the millennial. Take and Use my data however you want, as long as there is a benefit to me. It is that simple – the WIIFM principle > What’s In It For Me.

 

And until now it is exactly what Spotify had been doing. The ‘Personalisation’ had outweighed any ‘Privacy’ concerns. Take their recent ‘Running’ product, personalising your music stream based on, not only what you usually listen to and like, but also to the pace of your run (by measuring Beats Per Minute as you run and only feeding music through to your playlist that matches that beat). You can’t get more personal than that – a product literally delivered to match your individual need.

Spotify Get it Wrong

So how did Spotify fall victim to getting it wrong? Spotify is next generation, the streaming app that is most responsible for the fact that over One Trillion songs have been streamed to date in 2015. It offers a significant share of its product free of charge (beautifully entitled freemium) and to those who wish to add the benefits and escape the ads there is the small monthly charge. It replaced iTunes as the go-to App for the Millennial Generation. Users loved that it personalised their musical tastes and allowed them ‘follow’ others with similar tastes. They could curate personal playlists from millions of tracks. But yet hours after the new terms and conditions were released, an angry mob was forming.
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We should have done a better job in communicating what these policies mean and how any information you choose to share will – and will not – be used,” Mr Ek wrote in his blog / press release. And there, in a nutshell is where they got it wrong. They released the new terms and conditions without ever setting out to explain WHY they wanted the information. Why would a music app want access to all my photos? Why would a music app want to harvest contact details from my phone? Clearly millennials DO care about privacy when they do not see any benefits.

Be Clear on the Benefits

In the end it all blew over quite fast. Mr Ek explained that they wanted access to the Camera Roll so that users could upload their own photos to use as Playlist covers in the App, thereby personalising the product even more. Spotify wanted access to your contact details so that users could share with others more freely. And as usual all these requests for access would have to get the ‘allow’ button ticked by the user, just like any other App. “Oh well then – that’s fine” said the world. It was all over in just under a day.

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So what can brands learn from this 24-hour privacy v personalisation case? Quite simple really. The millennial consumer (and soon everyone) expects you to personalise your offering. Either in the manufacturing, retail, delivery or post-purchase. They want it unique, on their terms or to their liking. To do this you are going to need some data. Well not some. Lots of data. You will have to track it or buy it from others that do. How consumers feel about us using this data will be decided based on the benefits that are apparent. No apparent benefits results in a disillusioned consumer, or maybe even an irate one.

Spotify learnt this the hard way, and really it is still just the fundamentals of marketing. Deliver a benefit to the consumer they value and they will want the product. Deliver a product where the value is uncertain and you are in trouble. Where your product has used their personal data and delivered no additional benefits, then they start asking questions.

To put it in a fortune cookie …

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