Too Much Personally Identifiable Information

Michael Vizard

Since marketing began, the ultimate goal has been to identify not only the most likely buyers of a good or service, but also when they are most likely to buy it.

Thanks to advances in information technology, most notably in the form of business intelligence and customer relationship management software, a lot of progress has been made in identifying the buying behaviors of customers.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Marketers enthralled with the potential of the Internet have been pushing the boundaries in acquiring personally identifiable information (PII). There's no doubt that many customers are willing to surrender this information in return for some form of remuneration. But too many marketers have used the capabilities of the Web to collect too much information without the consent of their potential customers. The end result of all this activity is a lot of legislation that is going to raise costs for everybody in order to contain the actions of a few.

Geo-location services and a few other related tools can give most marketers the tools they need to be effective without compromising the identity of customers. According to Quova CEO Marie Alexander, rising concerns over PII have more companies than ever rethinking their approach to marketing for fear of running afoul of fines and other penalties.

That's obviously in the interest of companies such as Quova, which makes geo-tracking location software for the Web that identifies a person's physical location. That information can then at least be correlated with other customer information to come up with an educated guess about the customer without having to compromise anybody's PII.


That's also potentially good news for marketers because trying to track the buying patterns of individuals based on what they previously bought doesn't work.

For example, a husband may buy a product from Victoria's Secret three times a year: Valentine's Day, Christmas and his wife's birthday. Targeting him with Web ads the rest of the year based on that activity is a waste of money for the advertiser, and ultimately probably results in annoying him to the point that he thinks poorly of the company.

A lot of sophistication can be applied to marketing on the Web. But chances are, most of it is a poor substitute for basic common sense.

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Jul 23, 2010 2:46 AM becky holman becky holman  says:

As an avid consumer, I've thought for some time that profiling is skewed by gift purchases.  How would Amazon know that the romance novels I order for my mom are not for me?  However, I guess if I continue to buy them, it doesn't matter, eh?


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