Creepiness vs. convenience.

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled programming!

Greetings from North Brooklyn, where some of us survived and some of us — namely Charlie, who got to fly first class in his very own seat this season like the true child emperor he is — thrived during the holidays. It’s a new year, and we’re back and doing our best to survive those brutal January winds. Living by the river is so awesome, until it’s not.

On to the #content: 

Creepiness vs convenience 
We spent a couple days at The National Retail Federation's annual conference last week, and came away gobsmacked not only with the sheer amount of innovation that's happening in retail, but how much of it is borderline stalker-y. Whether it's camera technology to help track your in-store employees better, smart grocery labels that tell you when a customer has been lingering over a particular product, or just big data platforms that promise to help you make sense of all the information you're collecting, the prevailing trend in retail tech seems to be about gathering and processing information. Which seems all very well and good in a B2B context but perhaps misses the larger cultural moment a little bit. One thing we did not hear at NRF: the idea that some of this tracking might make people uncomfortable. 

Count us as optimistic, albeit skeptically so, that better data can drive better user experiences. When Instagram knows somehow that we're in the market for a Pendleton dog sweater and serves us an ad for it, we worry less about frightening amount of personal data they must have about us in favor of appreciating the 40% off deal. When we open Google Maps to find that our calendar invite for post-work frames at Gutter has already been noted, with directions attached, we shrug in appreciation. But it's a slippery slope, especially once this kind of tracking and modeling moves off our screens and into the real world. It's one thing to follow our browser history; quite another to track our physical movements

One thing that NRF hammered home though, is that the tracking is only going to get more invasive, despite the fact that public calls for data protection and privacy are increasing  as people realize just how much information these companies have about them. It'll be important for tech firms and marketers to realize just how this data mapping is experienced by users, and to make sure they're thinking through not just what's possible, but what's appropriate.