Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Data: Today’s most valuable currency

It’s no secret that data and analytics kind of make the world go ’round these days. The more connected we are, the more opportunities exist to track, measure, and analyze consumer usage.

But given the massive amount of raw data we collectively generate, the ability to process numbers into something more substantial is, well, money.  It comes at no surprise then that Amazon is so tight-lipped about their data. After all, this is the stuff that makes for a pretty solid competitive advantage.

However, this data we’re talking about is often not just how many units of “x” product were sold. This data is getting a lot more personal, and the methods these companies use to obtain it oftentimes leaves both consumers and competitors feeling a bit uncomfortable. As we saw not too long ago, for example, Amazon offered a discount to consumers who used the price-check app to compare prices in brick and mortar stores. Amazon’s method was twofold: not only did they drive business away from B&M shops; they were also able to collect data that would help them continue to price themselves competitively.

Now let’s talk about Google. As users, we practically give Google our data because it makes our lives easier. And Google promises us that our data is secure and anonymously aggregated. But Google’s announcement to change its privacy policy hasn’t exactly been well received by all. Additionally, Google has partnered with an online research company for a project called Screenwise, in which users can volunteer to have their online habits tracked by Google in exchange for an Amazon gift card. According to this article, this information is definitely not  collected anonymously.

The Screenwise browser extension collects information about “the sites you visit and how you use them.” To me that suggests it could even track mouse movement and where you hover and click on each page as well as what page you are viewing at any given moment.

There’s a fine line between data collection and invasion of privacy, and as more and more reports emerge about various breaches and missteps with user data, it’s no surprise that people are becoming more concerned about how these companies are using and storing information. But the thing is, convenience does come with a price. Using Facebook to connect with your friends or Google to keep track of your calendar is technically a choice, not a necessity. But, in order to use the things we’ve come to depend on, you have to accept the terms and conditions. I also don’t mean to paint a negative picture here because in a lot of ways, this data aggregation helps these companies create a better service. It’s just that when things get personal, there sure are a lot of pros and cons to consider.

Data is a big deal, and it’s only going to get bigger. There are even start-up companies looking to help users valuate their personal information. Data is practically becoming its own currency, more valuable than cash in many ways and for many different reasons, whether it’s to improve service, identify new product lines, or better understand customer buying habits.

It will be interesting to see how this usage of data will continue to affect and shape publishing, an industry that historically did not have much data to go by. On the one hand, it is exciting to imagine the possibilities, even if some of them are a bit of a stretch.

Imagine being able to know exactly which parts or chapters of a book readers skim right past and being able to suss out why. We already have recommendations given to us thanks to companies like Amazon. More data would help with discoverability concerns and could perhaps build a sharper strategy.

On the other hand, many aspects of publishing are just as much art as science, and the penchant for data might, in the long run, hinder the craft. Additionally, if a company like Amazon is the one to find a way to capture and analyze this data through something like its Kindle, the chance of publishers ever seeing that information is slim.

I also wonder where readers will draw the line. Exactly how much information is too much? When does it stop becoming convenient and start getting too personal?


This entry was posted on February 23, 2012 by in Opinion, Technology and tagged , , , .

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