Thursday, January 27, 2011

Browsing without a trail...

Some ruckus this past week about the how the new editions of Chrome and Firefox will include the ability to surf without a trace. No cookies, no clickstream, no IP address. No one would see you come and no one would know after you were gone. Or track you later. Sites would have to ask permission to identify you at entry, follow you onsite and then track your departure. Consumers think this sounds great.  Most don't know that online companies do this (and much more) today already. But governments do (or their younger aides do) and regulation is an election year away.

Most consumers blindly surf away today, 'friend' this, or 'like' that with reckless abandon. Almost 'surfing out loud' for all those to see. How many have Facebook 'friends' they have never met? I bet most do. And how many know that they are monitored throughout their site experience by savvy online marketers. If their site experience is rewarding, most probably don't care. They are getting something in return--a more relevant experience. The site has developed trust with the consumer. (Great overview of the current corporate trust barometer by Edelman PR.) In an online landscape where authenticity is difficult to establish and easy to lose, people are seeing value in trustful relationships (where credibility is cultivated) and cynical when its not (being 'defriended' or following someone disingenuine) and smart sites will attract trust by delivering value in exchange for identity.

I think there is a silver lining here. My prediction is that this anonymous surfing capability will be introduced by most if not all browser companies as self-regulation.  It will probably be an opt-in to block tracking. This will already limit its usage as most consumers are slow to upgrade browsers (how many of you out there on IE7.x?) in addition to those who won't or can't figure out how to opt-out. And larger online companies will sharpen their opt-in experiences by forcing authentication or log-in and messaging their enhanced site experience for those who identify themselves. That's where personalization comes in. Ever shopped on Amazon without logging in? It's OK but not great. If the site can deliver the goods--a more personalized experience--people will trust them. They will say, "I'll let you know more about me if you reward me for it." Good sites will. Bad sites will become strictly transactional, one-size-fits-all, one and done shopping sites.  It will be haves and have nots. Gated communities and open neighborhoods.

Privacy regulation could be the best thing that happens to personalization in the near future. Let's watch and see. 

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