Editor’s Notes: Data Is Not the Enemy
Have you seen the June 2004 issue of Reason, which calls itself the magazine of “free minds and free markets”? Hailed as a pioneering venture into the future of mass customized magazines, this issue used database segmentation and printing technology to create custom covers for most subscribers. Each cover featured an aerial photo of the subscriber’s neighborhood, with a red circle around his or her particular home. The inside front cover offered Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie’s editorial, personalized with facts related to the subscriber’s location, such as commute time, percentage of neighbors with college degrees, etc. Even the back and inside back covers used personalized ads.
The custom cover was pretty cool. I was even more impressed by the accompanying cover story that addressed society’s concerns about the collection and use of consumer data. For once, a consumer publication did not jump on the bandwagon to denounce the use of consumer data for commercial purposes.
Instead, Declan McCullagh’s article, “Database Nation: The Upside of ‘Zero Privacy,’” posits that the collection and sharing of consumer information has created far more benefits for consumers on a global scale than it has created grave harm; in fact, McCullagh thinks more attention should be focused on the need for controls to keep the government from using private data to create a police state.
And what did the 40,000 subscribers to Reason think about the June issue and its clever personalization? According to an interview with Gillespie by m-10 Report, a Web site that covers magazine management, the majority of early response to the issue was positive; only a small percentage of readers were angry enough to cancel their subscriptions.
This response is indicative of the way many consumers feel about the use of their personal information. As long as companies don’t misuse this data and people are given a way to control the flow of marketing communications to them by frequency, type and channel, the collection and sharing of consumer data does not necessarily represent an affront to individual privacy.