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Creepy Trashcans and Big Data

August 12, 2013

While recycling is all well and good, trashcans with all kinds of monitoring devices, don’t appear to be.

A UK company developed an approach to collect lots of data on people who passed by their trash cans; data that would be gathered from their smartphones. Following on from all of last week’s global PR about these trashcans, it appears according to Quartz, the City of London is stopping the data collection and carefully considering its next move.

It’s a great example of the challenge of big data as it tries to add location into the mix.

We are at a point of data nirvana for marketers, where everything that could be available data wise,  is pretty much available.

However, with a media that’s highly sensitive to data issues, following the revealing details about the NSA activities, any data collection attempts are going to be under intense scrutiny.

The issue with the London trashcans,  is that the data was being collected without the consumer’s knowledge and there was no really opportunity for them to opt out.

In some ways it mirrors the situation with Nordstrom, who were collecting data on their customers from smartphones and abruptly stopped, once the information got out about what they were up to.

While many consumers might not seem to care about security agencies collecting their web behavior, there seems to potentially be some sensitivity about location data. People don’t appear to be eager to let everyone have the knowledge of where they have been and where they are, there’s a certain “creepiness” to that.

It remains to be seen what the outcome will be over consumer data and their privacy, but it’s clear that those brands looking to collect location data without permission are risking some kind of backlash.

Obviously, the smartphone’s ability to generate rich levels of location data can be very valuable for all kinds of companies, it appears that they now just need to go about it in a way that respects consumers and asks for their permission, not just in the small print of an app, but in a very clear and open manner; more of an opt in, that opt out.

There’s now the possibility there will be an increased cost to getting hold of location data, because not all consumers are likely to give their permission and those who do will probably expect something in return.

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