Couple of days ago, I was talking in a Pub with a friend about user tracking.
I realised how much people are unaware of the mess we apply to them to learn them, then manipulate their behaviours.
This article highlights couple of technics we use in and outside applications.
It's not a technical guide, more an overview of what is happening.
We are all familiar with advertisement on TV, print, billboard.
Ads industry knows really well how to play with our sensitivity, abusing our states of vulnerability.
This tricks are applied on the message.
You are selling health insurance plan ?
You want the viewer connecting confort state with fear as a question, with your brand as a solution.
Easy, show a large picture of a happy family with a frightening message : "What if something happen to them ?"
But to make the message delivering better, timing is also important.
We, as consumer, have a resistance degree to ads absorption.
So commercials target vulnerability windows where is resistance is lowered.
For instance in a relaxing state: ads break in the middle of a movie.
Or in a tiredness state: metro ads when you come back from work.
However all of this have limits because of it's nature, it's static and users adapt more quickly.
And here we are, digital blow away this limit, being able to react as quick as your shadow.
Yes shadow, because we are most of the time unaware of it.
Do you feel safer behind your screen ?
Of course, we apply classic marketing technics, plus certain upgrades to the interactive nature of the medium.
We use for instace Design triggers to make you stay longer on page, increase trust feeling toward a product, commit you into the purchasing process.
But that's just marketing, the core difference is through your active state, you drop tons of information, even without filling a single form.
The only fact that you are acting is leaking intel.
Tracking your soul
State of the art let companies know more about you than you do.
It start with classical tracking tools, Google analytics being the most famous one. Through a one minute setup, a can site tell:
- From where you come from: direct access, search engine, a challenger company ?
- What page do you visit
- How frequently
- How long time you stay on each
- Where do you click
Only this ? Hell no, because you are tracked everywhere, from your email box to other websites.
We know bunch of other informations: Sex, Age, Location, Computer model, Tastes ...
Now pushing a like button sounds less than a "let's show to my friend" to a "lets tell to the industry". Behind every action, you drop data.
A world of ghosts
You start to freak out that we know too much about you?
Actually we don't care about you at all, at least as a single personne.
You are one tiny datum drop in the ocean of statistics.
With mass data, then we can predict a lot of things that are way for freaky.
For instance, let's mix those data with for example salary statistics.
With your location (country, city), your computer model, your age, content you recently watched, we can predict how your wallet look like, without even touching your bank account informations.
Be we don't even need salary statistic.
If your haven't thought about this, what do you thing is a loyalty card in a super market ?
A company pocket data collector that you happily use for some cents discount.
And the shop know suddenly all your habits.
Back on internet, any of your single move are tracked, from google research to the store basket button click.
And here is the drama.
Even is you act cautiously, lowing down what you expose, people you know may not, people than have similar behaviours may not, and statistically your digital ghost is rebuilt.
An obvious exemple, you don't have a Facebook account. But it's not required for your friends to tag you on pictures.
And there is nothing you can do against it.
Couple of tools and technics ...
Now you are aware of the big picture you are part of, I would like to list couple of tools and technics you already meet.
Cookies: We harvest you anonymous past.
What are cookies are so damn important to us ?
Because we track you as anonymous personne.
For instance you go a shopping website, then visit it again a week later.
We recognise you. And if you finally purchase something, you gonna create an account.
If things are well made, your past browsing history on this specific website gonna be linked with this account information, and you are in the box.
Cookie are not totally public. They are readable only by the website that issued them.
So other companies will not be aware of it, thanks god :)
Still there is other way to spy you, for instance knowing where you come from.
Email tracking: We follow you everywhere.
We are spying you even in your mail box.
When you open an commercial email, there is a transparent picture on it that, when loaded will tell the company you are viewing the email.
This way, we can understand what title drive user to read the mail.
There is a button in the mail to access your account ?
Click on it, and when you arrive on the website, we know it's because of this email.
Oh, and thanks to "smart" phones, we are closer to you :)
A/B testing: You tell us what you like without noticing.
This technic is applied on pages (including application) and also on email.
We do not display the exact same content to learn how users behave in front of it.
This technic is called A/B testing.
For instance, we gonna display for 75% of users a red button BUY (say A).
And for the remaining 25% the same content with a green button instead (say B).
A friendly cookie or your account will remember the group you belong to A or B. We will count the number of click on the buy button for each groups.
After a few time we gonna have data about how A and B performs.
And we will change gradually the percentage of display to confirm that B sell better than A.
By visiting us, you teach us how to sell you more.
Facebook/twitter connect: Bring your friend to the evil party.
We are messing with your friends.
We gonna force you to link your social networks, or to invite friends.
When I say forcing:
- Cannot see locked content (using frustration)
- Exchange it to free stuff (additional space on dropbox)
- Make your life more convenient (add automatically contact, find your friends)
Why ? Because social networks provide use tons of additional data.
The most precious is your connections with people. It means:
- A foot closer to grab them as new users, with you as ambassador.
- Their personal activities become tractors for your intention, increasing the change you come back to us
- Your network tell us a lot about you.
Tell me who are your friends and I'll know who you are!
Notifications: We don't let you forget about us.
Speaking of friend activities, you will receive a nice email or phone notification time to time to drive you back in.
And we figured out how to this efficiently.
User fox is a cloud service than let implement smart emailing with no time.
Smart emailing ? Based on your personal informations, something like this:
- Day 0: Welcome email
- Day 1: Do you have any question ?
- Day 3: You haven't logged this 2 days, any thing wrong
- Day 4: You start to use our product, thank you, what about invite your friends ...
- Day 6: Your friend Bob tell something nasty about you, will you let him go ?
Basically, depending of your actions or non-actions, we will send you email with partial informations or other kind of tricks to keep you doing what we want.
Recommandations: We know what you like before you.
It's true for ads, but also for products.
Instead of display same products for everyone, we gonna splash on your face things that are most likely to match your taste and wallet.
Want a proof of this ? Ask a friend with different taste to go on amazone.com and you'll see how much we know you.
Ethic, near future and weaponry
I would like to finish this topic with a serious questioning.
User data is a really sensitive topic.
Mostly because most of people are totally unaware of this problematic.
And who can blame them in (post-)crisis time where nobody give a sh**t about environment.
Except it's reaching another level: states.
And those products tricks now feed mass digital surveillance with blurry laws and usages. It really feel for like cyberpunk is invading reality.
And it will not calm down with the current invasion of connected objects.
"Smart" phones was the first move, so what next when your house, your fridge, your car will also feed us with your data ?
It's a recurring problem with innovation.
Use a knife to butter your bred, it's fine. But one day or another someone will stab people.
We cannot forbid knife to solve this, bred-butter lover will riot, and the staby one will find something else. Forbidden never solve anything.
However we are talking here about human scale application in troubled times.
States are weaponazing those data, the half usage of innovation that nobody want.
As a freelancer, I have a personal limit of what I would accept to create.
But even with this I still use analytics tools.
For product creator, user tracking is a required tool.
It help simply to make product better by collecting feedbacks.
Do you think we should stop using this mass analytics solutions ?
Do you know acceptable alternative (tools and technics).
Do you think we should have more laws around this issue ?