Is Modern Shopping Experience Evolving into Dangerous Global Cyber-Attack?

Is Modern Shopping Experience Evolving into Dangerous Global Cyber-Attack?

Foto: Dražen Tomić - Tomich Productions

Shopping experience of the future

A few days ago, I visited this new shopping mall and some strange things happened. After passing by a small coffee shop, the waiter stepped out and followed me around the mall offering their new bundle: two big chocolate donuts, a juice and cappuccino at the price of a single cup of coffee! The embarrassing fact is, I glanced (with one eye only) at the big sign in front of the mall: an eye-catching poster showing soft donuts, a moistened glass of cold, freshly squeezed juice and desirable cup of coffee with a big sign over the entire picture, “Only today until 10 AM”. Maybe the waiter had noticed my desiring glance?

One extremely thin and sexy girl bursts out of the bikini store with her arms full of tiny swimsuits, most of them being built around a single piece of a thin rope. She called her friend who soon joined us, offering cruises and vacations on tropical destinations.

My personal space was constantly being invaded. I felt, well... threatened? Punked? From my current standing point, the Turkish shopping experience with a salesman introducing me to his 11 children that he has to feed, trying to justify the price of a product seemed great now.

A bit scared, I rushed to the mall’s biggest grocery store hoping my not so little group won’t follow. And they didn’t. What a relief! But they had spread and were waiting in ambushes.

Every time I would touch any product on the shelf, someone from that group would show up offering their product or service. Also, the group continued to grow. It seemed even the smallest action I did resulted in a new group member.

Just for a clarification, I’m a 230 pound, 5.6 feet tall man. Overweight! Being constantly on a diet, I couldn’t prevent my eye turning subconsciously in the direction of the donuts picture, but I really felt awful with the waiter following me around the mall offering them.

Passing by the bikini shop, I was looking at the pictures of models wearing them, not at the bikinis. As much as I would like to visit sunny beaches, I don’t have money for that as I had just lost my job. So, you can imagine how I felt in this mall...

We are being followed

Well... in this imaginary story I would have felt exactly the way everyone should feel while exposed to online remarketing campaigns. Imagining modern internet marketing without some kind of on-line tracing methods is next to impossible. A whole new industry has grown based on remarketing. The general idea is that people express interest in a product by visiting a web site, hence the probability of successful sales to such individuals is significantly higher; meaning they are worth the additional effort and marketing cost. From the sales perspective, there’s no doubt remarketing is a successful, however, an ethically questionable sales strategy

Looking from the customers’ side, the problem with the remarketing itself is in the fact that people actually visit way more web sites than they are interested to buy from. Based on this information, internet users are being profiled, followed all over the internet and exposed to intensive and pushy sales efforts. Sometimes, profiles will identify what customers interested in, sometimes they will be completely wrong.  I’m sure most web shops would be thrilled if 20% of visitors return to buy. However, this also means that in 80% of cases, those web shops are paying big money for harassing people, which is at least, not cool. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if this waiter would actually offer his services once I show clear and undeniable interest by asking for services or waiting for a table?  As long as there is a chance of making a sale, marketing experts won’t give up on their aggressive tactics simply because they may be harassing a few potential buyers.

Things are getting scary

However, companies building long term relationships with their clients are less attracted by such an assertive approach. To attract such clients, marketing agencies need to do better. They need to pinpoint customers in a very precise way. Easy! The only thing required for that is more data about the web site visitor. It can easily be collected by following him/her all over the cyber and the real world, recording visited web pages, time (is it during working hours, over night...?), how long and over which images the mouse is held, physical location, records from movement the sensor in your phone (are you walking, driving, using a public transportation or a bike...), pictures from your camera, your voice, information from social networks etc.

We have no control over our personal data

More and more people are literally spraying their personal information around. Fast communications, social networks and smartphones allowed us to build business models based on processing personal information on  scales we had never dreamed of.

If you think you are in control of your personal information, you are so wrong.  Most internet users think that data about their interests is collected by web pages they are visiting. To some extent this is true, but nearly all web sites today use tools provided by Google, Facebook and similar specialized companies, and those tools are made to send your data to them. That way, there are a few companies on the internet knowing more about you than you do. Are you logged in to your Google or Facebook account while surfing the web, taking pictures, using navigation, searching for drugs, schools for your kids, a legal solution to a problem you are facing, a divorce attorney, a job, sex toys, casinos... You got the picture. You think you are safe if you are logged out or if you don’t have such an account at all? Not really. The whole point of collecting such enormous amounts of personal data is pinpointing the owner. The more data you have, the bigger the chance for unique identification. After all, isn’t this exactly what marketing agencies are looking for but are unable to get on their own?  So, they buy it.

While we are enjoying the convenience of modern life, someone out there is collecting information about us, creating profiles and selling this information to anyone ready to pay. More precisely, personal data isn’t sold as such. Instead, such companies are selling mediation services. To marketing agencies, they sell the ability to directly contact people who can fit into required profiles. Well, this could be good. How many times have you seen a notice that you can turn off third party cookies, but that this won’t affect amount of advertisement you will be exposed to. Instead, you will be exposed to advertisement not related to you interests. Each time you give a web page the permission to use third party cookies, you are giving up your privacy not by consciously giving information to a web site you are interested in. You help big data companies build a bigger and more detailed profile of your life. What are they going to do with it if they turn into an enemy (i.e. in case of war) or they have a data breach (i.e. cyberattack)?

When visiting a web site, think twice before accepting third party cookies – and then, click the refuse button.

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