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Why Privacy Matter in a Digital World with Smart Technologies

In the not-too-distant past, we went to the Supreme Court to prohibit the disclosure of certain personal information and thus protect its image. Today, we share them obediently with a talkative phone in unprotected relationship with the planet. Are we carefree? Not yet, but at risk of becoming so in an environment yet described as “smart”. Do we want to reduce this risk? Let’s look at our laptops like probes and do not be so proud or eager to be connected.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the world, but not without undesirable side effects, just like penicillin in another era. Now, if it is true that this old antibiotic could have given hives on occasion, he never made stupid. The question arises, however, for the Artificial Intelligence when it is put at the service of advertising in extreme quest of individualization of the consumers.

The digital marketing example

Marketing people use a medical strategy, the targeted intervention. They also share a dream of medical researchers: the discovery of “smart” particles to mark and isolate targeted cells and specifically treat them. A doubt? Simply replace the dream particle with an artificial intelligence algorithm that can trace, profile and target a consumer and see their individual buying experience as the condition to heal.

Indeed, as for penicillin and other broad-spectrum drugs, mass ads still serve but rake too wide, only scratch the targeted buyer, irritate others and generate less at the cash register. Talking to a single consumer knowing in advance his/her tastes, motivations and buying habits is more efficient and probably more profitable.

Every salesman knows he/she has an interest in getting to know their customer better, and no one doubts the superior impact of a finely crafted message to please the buyer. Regular online shoppers will note a surprising correlation between recent purchases and subsequent promotional offers.

Benefits gained vs. information lost

The benefit is significant if the information to individualize the consumer is reliable and available at a reasonable cost. There is little doubt about its reliability when it is the consumers who give it themselves, generously, unintentionally or clearly consenting, through loyalty programs, online shopping applications or payment solutions.

The few dollars offered for “loyalty” are out of proportion to the enormous commercial value of the information provided. And never believe that privacy laws, as modern as the recent EU Regulation, effectively police the Internet or hinder traffickers or resellers of data in secondary markets.

The availability of useful information is no more worrying. In fact, there is so much that it is their treatment that poses a challenge, and they are many to dive into the Big Data and to undermine it by means of algorithms of Artificial Intelligence able to seize, extract, correlate, trace and profile the consumer. The Internet is full of articles on research and application of Artificial Intelligence to Big Data, especially in the consumer sector.

Protect your power

Not that consumers are idiots; on the contrary, they weigh heavily when grouped together. But a consumer, alone and well targeted, can become so in the eyes of traders if they make him speak without his knowledge; if they ridicule him in the illusion that being “loyal” is first to his advantage; if they use powerful algorithms to trap him in his healthy habits or less healthy consumption compulsions; if they isolate it electronically to show it only their small share of an otherwise richer and more diversified market.

Without being perfect, a balance or balance of power is generally established between sellers and consumers in a competitive market. What would we say if the price of items we are offered online varies according to our ability to pay; whether the promises or announcements made to us were based on our political views or information privately shared with our suppliers?

Finally, to become careless is perhaps to lose interest or the ability to protest with one’s purchasing power. Or be blinded by a phone that probes us and holds our own conversations with third parties.

If privacy interests us, why not protect ourselves by seriously questioning the use of certain technologies and their undesirable effects. Hesitate a moment before agreeing to be “geolocated” or to convert our phone into a credit card.

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