Living in social media and numerous messenger apps for so many years now, I’ve seen Facebook and Google, retailers and Crypto platforms, well, just about everybody screw up privacy issues. And this past week was no exception with a new explosion about the new data leak from WhatsApp. This caused me to start thinking about it a little differently. There’s a discomfort level that we all have when others know something about us. I’ve created the following the handy pocket chart for you as a guide:

I’m sure that the details will vary with location and culture.  But generally most people around the world wouldn’t mind that their dry cleaner knows they like their shirts on a hanger. Or that the waitress in their favorite restaurant knows how they like their coffee, or eggs, or squid (depending upon local tastes.)  And I’ve known many people who fell in love with Tivo’s, Netflicks and Pandora, because it finds things they like but had never considered.  That’s very convenient.

It starts to get a little more murky when you get to Google searches and Amazon purchases. People feel that’s getting a little more private and you find some people who habitually delete their search history, and cookies on their PC’s etc. But lots of people share their Facebook TV/Movie/Music likes, but they get nervous when they think about marketers using that data to target them.

And when you take the totality of all of the information that Google or Facebook has about you, it starts to make you feel more uncomfortable. Because they can take all of that info and make some very accurate assumptions about you and your likes and dislikes. I don’t want to be browsing Google or Facebook at work and have a coworker come up and look over my shoulder and see ads for (Fill in the blank with embarrassing personal products) on my screen.

Possibly the only people with a similar volume of knowledge about you is your bank or credit card company.  We don’t think about that too often, but the credit bureau’s and banks have been building files on all of us for decades.  And so far they’ve not done anything too scary with all of that data. Why?  Because they are very closely regulated by the government.  Will we need that with Facebook and Google?  Most likely, it will come to that.

We are approaching the “Creepiness Zone”.  It’s a hazy boundary somewhere near the top of the scale where convenience is trumped by discomfort.  It can best be illustrated by that feeling of unease you get when someone surprises you by knowing more about you than you had expected them to know.

Another well-established entry into the fray is Groupon’s new rewards program which only needs your credit card info to track your purchases and deliver the Deals to you when you earn them.  There are lots of loyalty programs out there from supermarkets to airlines to credit cards.  We’ll have to see where this Groupon deal lands, but I think it’s getting close to the Creepiness Zone for many people.

Groupon, Facebook and Google will be best served if they can avoid the Creepiness Zone and stay in the clear area where the cost of knowledge about us is easily out weighed by the value of the convenience.  That’s the equation each of us has to calculate; am I willing to allow them to KNOW me in exchange for the DEAL?  That equation has a million different solutions for each of us, at many different points in our lives.

Social marketers need to be aware of the Privacy vs. Convenience Continuum and learn to avoid the Creepiness Zone if they are to succeed in delivering services consumers want. Can you give me a good reason for you to lead your company into the Creepiness Zone?