By: Jake McKee
Mar. 15, 2001 03:43 PM
I admit it. I signed up for a few newsletters. Bought a few things online. Registered for an online sweepstakes or two. Okay, so I gave out my e-mail address like flyers on a New York sidewalk. I was weak...what harm could it do, right? Right?
As Mel Gibson said in The Patriot: "I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me and the cost is more than I can bear." And this past Christmas shopping season those sins did visit me...over and over and over.
Until then I had never realized just how many e-mail newsletter lists I had signed up for. Sure, I regularly get several such newsletters in my inbox, and most of them I enjoy. But in December I received over 500 e-mails from retailers ever so gently reminding me that it was Christmastime. Thanks.
In addition to the normal weekly batch of newsletters and promotions, December also brought e-mails from lists long forgotten, lists that I haven't seen anything from in months. And as the Christmas shopping deadline approached and e-tailers' sales volumes weren't where they wanted them to be, the desperation was thick in the slurry of e-mails.
After a vigorous Opt Out campaign, I was exhausted and frustrated. After weeks of replying "Unsubscribe" to countless e-mails, trying to remember long-forgotten user names and passwords, and slogging through pages of poorly designed Opt Out functionality, I am convinced that "one-to-one marketing" was an idea born of evil, evil men.
If you think it'll be better with one-to-one marketing in the wireless space, think again.
We've all heard countless discussions about the next big thing in wireless applications: location-based marketing. You know the stuff: you walk past McDonalds and your cell phone beeps that you have a message, a coupon for half-priced Happy Meals. You walk past Barnes and Noble and oops, there goes the text messaging: Oprah's new book is on sale at half price. As you walk into the mall your cell phone sounds like a fire alarm. Wait, though, it's not just your cell phone, it's the cell phones of all the other people around you. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep...
But hey, you can just turn that service off, right? Not if my experience this Christmas is anything to go by. Remember how hard it was to Opt Out of all those online mailing lists? Think how hard it'll be to Opt Out of wireless marketing. The poor usability of the devices on the market makes even a basic experience a difficult one. Imagine having to navigate to countless WAP sites to Opt Out of their programs! And this isn't just an annoyance like those 500-plus e-mails in my inbox. This is a major privacy issue.
The cell phone is one of the most powerful consumer tools known to man. Communications, entertainment, messaging, and more can now fit in your shirt pocket. It's also becoming the biggest strike against personal privacy there is. In October of this year, less than seven months from now, the Federal Trade Commission will require all cell phones manufactured to have the ability to pinpoint the location of a cell phone within 50 meters. This means that if you call 911, the rescue crew can find your location anywhere in the country within a 50-meter radius. It also means that a lot of people can figure out where you are and what you're doing throughout the day, every day.
This may seem like a reactionary view of the FTC requirement, but let's think about this in real-world business terms. Credit card companies have been tracking their customers' purchasing habits and trends and then selling the results to marketeers for years, providing a very clear picture of the shopping habits of a large cross-section of America. Once marketeers know it's possible to track not only "spending" habits but also "shopping" habits, they'll do whatever it takes to get their hands on that goldmine of information. Furthermore, think about the efforts of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies today with respect to tracking individual citizens. With a tool like this, much greater levels of detail about individual people can be more easily tracked.
Now is the time for us - not only as developers but also as consumers - to take a hard stand concerning where we're going to take this new form of one-to-one marketing. We're now required, in a way we've never been required before, to create truly usable forms of Opt Out and Unsubscribe methods for our wireless applications. Typing text on a cell phone to send a message is hard enough. Let's make sure it isn't a difficult process to stop getting e-mails from The Gap every time I walk past their stores.
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