The New York Times highlights how even such an innocuous instrument as a digital thermometer connected to a smartphone can open up huge swathes of data for advertisers.
As the winter flu season approaches, Clorox, which, among many other things, makes disinfecting wipes, has paid to license data gathered by Kinsa, a tech start-up that makes smart thermometers.
These thermometers don’t just take your temperature, they analyse symptoms on a smartphone app, allowing users to track their state of health, something that is especially appealing to parents of young children. The company has sold 500,000 of these thermometers.
The data collected by San Francisco-based Kinsa allows Clorox to see where the clusters of people suffering from flu-like fevers are in the country. And the first line of defence against contracting flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is to disinfect surfaces to stop the virus spreading.
Clorex can then direct its ads for wipes and other products at the zip codes where flu is prevalent. And Kinsa says the process works, claiming a 22% increase in consumer interaction with Clorex’s ads when the data was used between November 2017 and March this year.
Other companies have also used Kinsa data, such as drug companies which have marketed flu-related products to retailers in areas where the data shows demand is likely to spike.
The company says most users of its app do opt to share their location, and that it doesn’t connect any information to phone numbers or email addresses.
The Times reports that others, too, are increasingly seeing the same data-driven opportunities.
Smart-TV makers, such as Sony, include software in their sets that track people’s viewing habits to allow bespoke advertising.
Then there are smart speakers, like those sold by Amazon and Google. Amazon has even filed, and been granted, a patent outlining how it would market cough drops or chicken soup to people its Echo device noticed were coughing and spluttering when they addressed it, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.
Not everyone is happy. Christine Bannan, the consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times there needed to be uniform standards about what data companies could gather.
“It’s less of a privacy question and more of an ethical question on what we think is acceptable for targeting people who are ill and what safeguards we want to have around that,” she said.
Sourced from the New York Times, Daily Telegraph; additional content by WARC staff