Customer Convenience or Surveillance Society?


Amazon’s new high-tech store opens today. It has no check-out and no cashiers. Instead, it relies on the latest visual recognition and internet of things technology to track what you’re taking from the shelves, and bills you automatically. A New York Times report found it very convenient and discovered that shoplifting is hard.

The downside is that it’s one step closer to “Big Mother” — a surveillance society that we’ve chosen to be part of. We do this because it’s convenient — but also because we trust that our data is being kept private.

But is that trust warranted? Beyond the many high-profile examples of data breaches and government overreach, surveys show that many people just don’t realize how much data is being held about them and even Data Scientists can get creeped out they realize how much even “anonymized” data reveals.

A recent survey from SAP Hybris showed that customers have high expectations when it comes to vendors using their data. They expect them to:

  • Protect their interests (72%)
  • Be transparent in how they use personal data (66%)
  • Protect their privacy in the event of criminal investigations (60%)

And they will react badly to any problems or abuse: fully 79% said they would leave a retailer if personal data is used without their knowledge.

Digitalization has to be combined with robust protection for customer data. The future lies in the wider adoption of customer identity management systems that give consumers more explicit control over their data — and this is being backed up with stronger data privacy laws such as the European General Data Protection Regulation.

As the Amazon example shows, the latest technologies are going to be used to track you in the real world in much the same way as when you’re browsing the internet — and some companies will be tempted to carry out the same kind of abuses.

Are we ready?

Amazon Go Store Photo: SounderBruce


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