A few weeks ago local San Francisco coffee chain Philz Coffee agreed to “stop tracking customers” following an “investigative report” from a local ABC TV affiliate. The station trumpeted the move as though it had uncovered some secret government conspiracy or major corporate corruption.
The owner, Jacob Jaber, tried to explain to ABC that the Euclid system “is not shared or sold and only meant to improve customer service.” Nonetheless the negative publicity was too threatening and he pulled it.
There was a Euclid sticker on the window indicating a URL where consumers could opt-out. However there was no real education of Philz customers about the reason for Euclid and how it might benefit them. Consumers saw the sticker but didn’t know what it meant. So when asked by ABC about whether they were comfortable being “tracked,” they said no — of course.
This example is an instance of a larger problem: media sensationalism and merchant defensiveness. There are numerous benefits to consumers from the use of these technologies (see e.g., this WSJ report on Lowe’s and PointInside). However retailers have mostly been afraid to engage in a public discussion about indoor location and privacy, cowed by their legal departments into silence.
However if you’re not out there talking directly to the public about privacy you’ll be playing defense, as Philz was forced to do, by “surveillance” coverage seeking to tie indoor location and analytics into the NSA meme.
Rather than “wait and see” or avoidance, retailers, brands and local merchants like Philz need to take “ownership” of the privacy discussion and participate fully with other stakeholders to debate and demystify what’s going on and explain how these technologies can improve the in-store experience for consumers.
At the Place Conference on July 22 in New York we’ll be talking extensively about privacy and indoor location with:
- Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director, Future of Privacy Forum (moderator)
- Maya Mikhailov, EVP and Co-Founder, GPShopper
- Amanda Koulousias, Attorney, Federal Trade Commission
- Kate Kaye, Writer, Advertising Age
- Éloïse Gratton, Co-chair of the Privacy Practice Group at McMillan LLP
This is a not-to-be-missed discussion for anyone doing location based marketing.
Prior to the conference, on Wednesday, July 2, 10 am PDT /1 pm EDT, I’ll be giving a free webinar with Jules Polonetsky, “The Top 5 Things Marketers Need to Understand about Location and Privacy.”
You will be much more informed after attending. Register for the webcast.