What does the web know about you?

I’m at a research conference in Chicago for the early part of this week. Because there were no rooms at the hotel Sunday night, my boss and I woke at the crack of dawn yesterday (honestly, dawn hadn’t even cracked yet) to board our early morning flight. You might think I’m weird but I love to fly. Not the aspects of boarding or deplaning, but the airtime where I can focus all my energy on a book without worrying I should be doing something else. I was especially excited because I’d been on hold for Celeste Ng’s, Little Fires Everywhere, at the library and I got an email on Sunday that it was ready for pick up.

Because our flight was so early, we arrived at the hotel at about 8 a.m. but luck was in our favor and they had a couple of rooms ready for us. We went our separate ways and agreed to meet for breakfast in an hour.

When I first step into my hotel room, I get a feeling that I’m getting away with something. A sense of elation that all the space in these four walls is mine for the next couple of days. I can hang up my clothes (using all the hangers), lay out my toiletries and makeup without worrying I’m not leaving enough room for my husband’s stuff. I’m a person who craves personal space and time to myself and a couple nights in a hotel is just the fix I need.

After breakfast, we have another two hours before we need to be anywhere and so head back to the room to nap or relax. I perused Twitter and Facebook and then returned to my novel drifting to sleep just before the appointed time to meet again. I pull myself to a sitting position because sleep wouldn’t be a good thing right then.

The conference is a numbers thing and I love numbers because of the stories they tell. The opening speaker didn’t disappoint, throwing numbers around like bundles of candy to the crowd. I was astounded to learn that 64% of US households subscribe to Amazon Prime. 84 million people x $100 a year for the service. Amazing. I didn’t write any of it down, letting the figures wash over me like a warm sunshower of data. Yup, I’m a nerd.

The keynote of the day was Jennifer Golbeck, speaking on Big Social Data. I’d watched her Ted Talk so I was prepared to be uncomfortable by the amount of data that’s on the web about us to be mined by all sorts of apps and companies that want to target us.

She gave several examples of companies that are mining our data and honestly it was freaky. One company offers a plugin for Chrome that allows you to enter an email address and find out how the person likes to be communicated to based on the personality type the app assigns based on unknown data mining. I decided to plug in my email to see what they say.

Not sure about being persuasive but generally the description of how I navigate situations is pretty accurate. And now you know a little more about me. How does this play into decisions or judgments people who don’t know me will make about me? That’s pretty scary because while I have some of these attributes they don’t apply to every situation. If you are interested in learning more, the plugin is called Crystal. Use at your own risk.

Another example she showed us was using a website called and she demonstrated with her own information which she believed to be secure due to the level of privacy she had set on her Facebook account. It showed a creepy man stalking her online and then finding her in real life based a data trail she had left in her posts. We were all properly blown away by the end of her hour-long talk. One attendee shared an instance of sending a text photo of a sink she wanted to buy at Lowes and then being served up ads for the exact sink within an hour. Jennifer explained that our smartphones are actually worse for relaying our personal information than social media sites. Our phones are always on, recording our movements and conversations. It seems so Dystopian to me but here we are.

I’m excited to hear what we’re going to learn over the next two days about the research available to do our jobs as marketers better. We definitely don’t want to be creepy about it but need to find better ways to serve our member base that will benefit them first while keeping our values and ideals intact. At our credit union, we pride ourselves on putting our member’s needs first. We do not want to put them in a worse financial situation by selling them products they don’t want or need. We are in an age where the expectations of customers are based on technology and us knowing them so we can offer them relevant information as is the Amazon and Uber model. The world is changing and we have to keep pace all the while maintaining transparency about what we are doing.

This new world is not for the faint but the more we know about the technology around us, the better we can understand and combat the invasions into our privacy that we don’t want.





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