It's almost a decade ago now that the 2002 film Minority Report showed the moral majority what the future will look like in 2054 when mobility, geo-location and targeted content technologies merge. While the movie looks at various elements of the digital future, the biggest 'ah ha' moment for both privacy advocates and marketers alike happens when John Anderton (Tom Cruise) has his retinas scanned as he exists the train and a digital billboard displays "John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right now."
So how long until you walk past a store and it offers the "other people like/bought" experience outside of the confines of a website? Services like AT&T's Shop Alerts show promise by linking customers proximity to stores and offers. But these aren't the "other people like you" recommendations based on behavior that go beyond the proximity to a store you already like (and have already subscribed to).
Another service that brings us closer to beverage recommendations is the goHow application developed by Denver airport. Described as "blending real-time travel information with precisely targeted marketing messages," it targets travelers with relevant offers based on their locations such as departure gates, as well as their likely needs based on events. Your flight is delayed? You could use a Guinness right now. There is a bar around the corner and a restaurant near gate four.
However, as innovative as both of these technologies are, they rely on voluntary subscriptions and locations. What if you haven't subscribed to your carrier's service, or aren't at Denver Airport? Well, your friendly social platform is already building out the data that could soon understand when you'd like a Guinness.
Adrian Lewis from on the community weblog MetaFilter said that "if you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold," referring of course to the value of the data that folks like Facebook are amassing. Facebook doesn't just know what sort of trivia my old school friends and I like to play - it knows the brands I like and often where I am.
Looking at my own Facebook and Twitter pages, if Smith & Wollensky in New York had a party of six just cancel their reservation, and knew that five of my colleagues and I were at an industry event around the corner, the combination of these data points (my location, my likes, what I'm doing and at what time of day) could allow them to create an offer that brings them a customer immediately.
One consideration is the time of day - a crucial element in the real world, unlike in the online world where it's essentially irrelevant. My recommendations on Amazon are the same while I'm at the office at 1:00pm as they are at 3:00am while I'm in my pajamas. Smith & Wollensky however, is closed at 3:00am. They have an empty table at 9:00pm and a very narrow window to get revenue from it. If they want to be relevant to the mobile consumer, the time of day a potential customer walks past their restaurant is imperative.
While most of today's technology relies on the consumer explicitly stating their likes and locations, micropayments are becoming more prevalent, and they're eliminating the need for the consumer to identify themselves. Make a payment with your phone and it knows that you like Starbucks, when you like to drink coffee and the specific location you frequent.
What if the consumer doesn't make a purchase? CNN Money recently reported that malls are already implementing technology that anonymously tracks shoppers' cell phones to determine the path they take between stores. As the article points out, this technology applies techniques of the online world to gain insight into people that don't make traceable transactions.
There is of course, a social element to data gathering and it can be seen in two ways. Firstly, the data is sometimes used as only a conversation starter so you can be sold a product by a human. I used to have the pay-per-view soccer channel in the UK, and I would often get a call from "a fellow Chelsea fan" who would talk about my team and tell me that I should sign up for Chelsea TV. There are other times when social media and the "gamification" of services that basically harvest data for marketing applications are so influential that we volunteer all the information in exchange for a virtual badge or to be crowned mayor of our favorite restaurant.
While privacy advocates may be concerned about large-scale information gather, the general public doesn't seem to mind. We are all surrendering privacy in exchange for convenience, credibility, badges or to be social. Who doesn't dream about an assistant who knows your coffee preference, a barman who recalls your favorite beer, or a Maître D who knows your favorite table?
One could argue that the launch of Apple's Siri isn't just about talking to your iPhone and establishing a verbal relationship with your mobile device. It may be that your phone will soon be making suggestions such as enjoying a pint of Guinness after a run from the authorities. Perhaps it will be more subtle than that. Maybe we won't have billboards using our names and favorite brands as we walk past as envisaged by Minority Report. Perhaps our little pocket assistant will whisper wirelessly as we walk into a strange town bar and the barman will say, "you could use a Guinness right now."