Profiling the mobile customer

We’ve recently discovered a fantastic two-part paper on mobile behavioural advertising by N.J. King and P.W. Jessen. It won Best Academic Paper at the 2010 Legal, Security and Privacy Issues conference in Barcelona.

Part I, 2010a

Part II, 2010b

Firms are now merging offline and online data from countless sources to create profiles on consumers. The data from a swiped driver’s license will only serve as one source out of many when compiling profiles on people. With the ongoing rise of smartphones serving as digital wallets and technologies such as NFC, your transaction details will be more easily captured, stored and disseminated to third-party data brokers. This practice becomes socially detrimental when left unchecked by privacy-enhancing initiatives such as our Prop-ID project. Why?

Unrestricted consumer profiling creates an “asymmetry of access to knowledge” (2010a, p. 460) between customers and marketers. Without an understanding of why they are being grouped into a category and marketed to in a particular way, people are often induced to simply accept that classification. This often leads to the perpetuation of harmful behaviour. For example:

“Should advertisers be able to use profiling to predict that a consumer will take advantage of a coupon for online gambling when the profile includes consumers who are likely to be compulsive gamblers?” (ibid.)

Through our card overlays and Android prototype, the Prop-ID project encourages people to understand these negative consequences associated with unchecked consumer profiling. By being more selective about the personal information that we provide, data brokers will no doubt have a harder time assembling such socially destructive consumer profiles.