Thursday, August 05, 2004

Personalization vs. Privacy

A recent study. by ChoiceStream shows that most Internet users (81% of them) want some kind of personalization when online, and they are willing to sacrifice some privacy to get it.

As the volume of information and complexity of services on the Web keeps expanding, personalization is one way to shut out much of the clutter. If a site you are visiting recognizes you, it can steer you to those content elements that match your interests or demographics. But the downside is that the site needs to collect and apply your personal data in order to do a decent job.

It can get this data in a number of ways: by asking you for demographic, preference, and personal information, such as age, name, location, likes and dislikes; by retrieving records of your past transactions, such as things you bought, credit card used, mailing address provided; or by tracking your behavior and recording the site you came from, the things you looked at, the time you spent, the words you searched for. Most sites do all three. Some (such as Yahoo! and Google) aggregate the data to refine their systems; others (Amazon) use it for personalization; still others may compile information that is provided to business partners.

Not surprisingly, most surfers are willing to trade personal information for personalization: 64% are willing to provide preferences and 56% are willing to provide demographics. But people are (quite rightly) wary of being tracked and profiled -- only 40% said they would trade tracking for personalization. People still want to be in control of what information is collected. And, according to the study, the older you get, the more wary you are.

The issue of privacy is big in online retailing, but in e-learning it is not yet an issue. It's an area where the individual provides a great deal of personal information and is tracked in detail, yet there is rarely any personalization payoff. When I talk to training professionals and ask them about their privacy policies and practices and what they are doing about data mining or data security, it's astonishing how often I get a blank look in response. It may take a couple of high-profile cases before privacy in e-learning gets the attention it deserves.

No comments: