Oh, technology. You never fail to really just creep us all out. First that really human-looking robot named Sophia, now this. Thanks.
“Imagine if your website or mobile app could see exactly what your customers do in real time, and why they did it?”
This is a very real, very ominous quote pulled directly from the website of Glassbox, the developers of the newest (and creepiest) marketing analytics tool.
Let’s back up for a second and talk about why companies need consumer analytics. The simplest answer is: they want to make money. Easy enough, right? In order to make money, companies need consumers who are compelled, through the company’s marketing, to purchase some product or service. Based on the product the company is selling, they will likely already have a target demographic in mind, whether that target is millennial females who take interest in politics, or 40-50 year old men who have concerns with thinning hair (if you’re thinking this is specific, you have no idea how specific you can truly get). Now, businesses can purchase information about their demographics, or use in-house tools to find out, on the most granular level, what really sells to their demographic. When a business is able to understand consumer groups, or their demographics, they are able to identify opportunities to create a more robust marketing strategy.
So, now that a business has the information they can create marketing campaigns to appeal to people who might like their product based on comparable interests, OR directly tap into this pool of people, who are proven to have interests in x, y, z, and promote their product. Cool. Though, still kind of creepy that some guy in a cubicle somewhere knows where you live and what brand of paper towel you use. But, we digress...so, what do these campaigns actually do? Well, that’s up to the individual company and the company’s goal in their digital marketing campaign. One example, which we’ll focus on, is directing traffic to download an app.
Say a company wants people to download their new fitness app. You’re a runner in your mid-20’s. You follow a lot of fitness blogs, you “like” a bunch of running pages on Facebook, your Amazon wish-list has pages of athletic wear, you’re subscribed to long-distance runners on YouTube, you recently purchased a Garmin watch, and you frequently use hashtags in your content like #marathonlife or #run. Congratulations! You’ve been targeted by this company. You’ll likely begin getting advertisements for this brand new fitness app. You’ll think “wow, this looks interesting,” and you will download it. Score one for the marketing department of this fictional company- their strategy was executed and, as a result, their app was downloaded by you! While not a “sale” per say, the goal of this campaign was to direct consumers to download an app.
Great! You downloaded a new app that seems pretty useful, and the company that developed this app just gained a new customer. Now what? Well, the analytics don’t stop there. Companies need to know what parts of the app you like the best, which are most useful, and which they can expand on. How do they do it? Well, they can push polls on consumers, but let’s be real- we ignore those. What about app reviews? Those are not entirely accurate, and also we ignore those too. So, how is this information collected?
Well, dear readers, that is where Glassbox comes in. And yes, even the name is creepy. Glassbox, the first of this particular type of analytics firm, literally SCREEN RECORDS users on apps. While the company can’t access your front or rear-facing cameras, they can certainly access every aspect of your screen while you’re using the app.
Back to the app you’ve just downloaded. The company decides to hire Glassbox to give them insights into their current users. How does that affect you? According to The Atlantic:
“Glassbox’s software records video of users’ screens as they use apps, then compresses and plays back the footage for analysis. This “session replay” becomes a record of every keyboard press, everything they type, the error messages they see, the amount of time they spend on each page, and so on. Session replays are versatile documents”
Now, you might be saying “well, that’s reasonable, I probably agreed to that in the terms and conditions when I downloaded the app.” We hate to say you’re wrong, but you’re wrong. Glassbox never required any of its clients to alert users to the fact that….you know, THEY’RE ESSENTIALLY BEING SPIED ON.
We know we’ve been speaking in hypothetical terms this entire time, but don’t get us wrong….this company is very real, and there’s a very big possibility that you’re using an app right now that is screen recording your every move. There’s no official list of companies that employ Glassbox (womp, womp), but there have been numerous articles published naming companies from Abercrombie & Fitch, to Hotels.com, to Singapore Airlines. While this may seem innocuous, imagine the kind of data you’re entering into these websites. No, not your shirt size, or your favorite vacation spot, but your credit card information, home address, and maybe even your passport number. Yep, creepy. To make matters worse, Glassbox has claimed that this information is “blurred out,” but there have been reports that the blurring effect doesn’t cover all information, exposing thousands of guest’s personal information.
To see it all in action, check out the below Youtube video that shows the type of information that was pulled for Air Canada:
Yep, that’s all of your data being recorded by some random person sitting in a cubicle. Maybe the worst part? Companies not only collect this data without your knowledge, but can also monetize it as well, which begs the question: where’s OUR cut?
Are you upset? Creeped out? You should be. There is no known list of apps that use Glassbox, and you, as the consumer, have no idea which of the apps you use on a daily basis are recording your information. Luckily, after catching wind of this, Apple has issued a warning to developers regarding the violation of privacy terms and guidelines. We’ll see what happens with that.
In the meantime, the only thing you can do is put your tinfoil hat on and wait for all of this to blow over. Just kidding, this type of technology is not going away. In an industry that literally thrives off the data of consumers, it’s almost certain that your privacy will be taken advantage of in some way or another, whether you know about it or not. Now, while this would be an interesting time to start a conversation about the dark, looming cloud that is mass-consumerism, we’ll leave this blog post as it is.
For now, be safe out there, folks. If you’re entering any of your personal data on your apps, think twice.