When AI is Scary Good? How our Customer Experience is Guided by Data

Man covering his eyes while watching TV.

It is Halloween season and how can we not think about scary things.  We are bombarded with images of the festive day nearly everywhere and although it is way at the end of October, it feels like I have seen advertisements and spooky grocery store cut-outs since the summer.  What I have not seen is online promotions for horror movies and that may have more to do with AI driven marketing than the size of the Hollywood marketing budgets.

Creepy Data Privacy

The most frightening thing we worry about in our online experiences is often our data privacy.  What data am I sharing, which companies have access to it and how are they using it?  Our online presence and data privacy as I have written before can be beneficial and at times too strict like this time I found a new iPhone.  Have you ever searched for a product online and then moments later saw an ad for that same product pop up on Facebook?  Did it give you chills and make you feel like someone, or something was watching you?  It is the same fearful premise of the old movie When a Stranger Calls.  The line “He’s watching you get of the house!!!” might conjure those same feelings.  Perhaps we have grown more comfortable with the uncomfortable thought of our data being ‘watched’ by strangers in the time since, but many still admit to feeling creeped out about online data tracking. 

“More than 82% of the survey participants said they are alarmed by businesses monitoring or collecting data.  More than half of the survey participants said they were fed up, frustrated or creeped out”

DataGrail / OnePoll Survey

We have images in our mind about data privacy and its nefarious use and that in itself is scary.  Consider Clearview AI a company touting their good intentions of using facial recognition for crime fighting.  In doing so, it is ‘web-scraping’ our faces off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others while building a massive collection of nearly 10 billion images.  You and I are probably in there but we do not really know why.  Improvements in data privacy and transparency have begun with California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which allow customers to know more about how their data is used.  Until this is more broadly enacted many of us will remain unaware of how our data is used.

Tradeoffs for Convenience

For me data driven AI algorithms offer usefulness, helping me choose products while shopping or quickly giving me the fastest driving directions to my favorite places.  Overall improving most of my customer experiences.  AI in all its disjointed forms and platforms, seems to know me and sometimes that is a good thing.  For example, I am a longtime fan of Netflix (since the days of DVDs).  I enjoy the convenience of streaming services because the more I watch, the more data it collects about my preferences and the more it knows what I like to see.  When it comes to online banner ads and media recommendations, it knows I would rather watch Ted Lasso than the Quiet Place and the trade off between privacy and convenience strike a good balance. 

. . .

The pandemic of 2020/2021 felt like an unavoidable horror show where we were trapped in our homes, separated from our friends and family, and struggled to escape the invisible terror of COVID.  Many of us turned to streaming movies.  Subscription services like Netflix and Hulu boomed, marking their largest growth periods.  Also (this is the important part) it contributed significantly to their data and the algorithms that consume it.  The AI ‘bots are watching me and I am ok with that…for now.

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