I met a self-described “global marketer,” I’ll call him “Bob,” recently at a hackathon and our conversation turned to one of the ideas/projects that had placed in the top three spots at that hackathon. The project, we’ll call it “E,” aimed to facilitate a better experience at multi-track conferences by collecting attendee data.

Basic idea: Project E would gather data about the attendees’ movement at the conference and analyze that data to optimize the conference experience. A tag would be attached to each attendee name badge and these would be read by units placed throughout the conference. Each tag would be associated with their respective attendee’s profile. Each attendee’s movement would be trackable.

The assumptions:

  1. Attendees who leave sessions prematurely are doing so because of a poor speaker.
  2. The number of attendees participating in a particular track is an indication to the organizers of that track’s resonance.
  3. The data collected can be used to make event logistics decisions.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the use of geolocation data to inform programming decisions, making data-driven decisions to organize better conferences seemed like a reasonable idea.

The Issue: But what Bob and I could not agree on was how much disclosure to provide the attendees. Collecting uniquely identifiable information and pairing those with the movement of paying customers, seemed intrusive without transparency and full disclosure. Bob’s position was to include disclosure in the terms and conditions i.e. the fine print “just like they do in software” because “nobody reads those anyway.”

How prevalent is this mindset among marketers? Is it ethical to “inform” a paid customer of the data you are collecting on them in a non-transparent way?

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