The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this site or its staff.
Family mailboxes have been under assault by junk mail for decades. Catalogs, newsletters, credit card offers disguised as official documents, a genuine rain forest worth of poorly-targeted, annoying advertising. This method of direct mail advertising has proven so poorly constructed that a 1% return rate has been considered pretty good for businesses who try it. For us it's a daily frustration.
But isn't it true that it's only junk mail if you are not interested in the product or service being offered? What if you received a valuable coupon for a quality set of cookware just when you were in the market for a quality set of cookware? What if, as you walked the last few city blocks to work and were thinking about a hot beverage, your smartphone politely beeped as you approached a Starbucks, offering your a meaningful discount on a vanilla latte? Would you be offended by being at the nexus where need + opportunity = value? Would you feel insulted as you paid half price for your latte?
And what if all of this could be accomplished without advertisers knowing you personally, but rather you as a member of a consumer group, you as defined by hundreds of impersonal data points that lead to potential win-wins (giving a thirsty person/potential customer a valuable discount on a cup of coffee in a store one block away, i.e. need + opportunity = value)?
A recent Wall Street Journal article has created a lot of buzz about how smartphone apps gather data about us and share it with the CIA, FBI, advertisers. Exactly who is troubled by this practice? Is it the person who updates their Facebook page to reflect every single, personal and mundane moment of their daily routine? Is it the MySpace fan who voluntarily shares deeply personal information with complete strangers and with complete abandon? Me thinks thou doth protest too much.
While some may envision a Big Brother-stalking scenario, the truth is we are dots on a graph that are collated and categorized in a manner that is both resolutely private and yet still manages to provide win-win opportunities for businesses and consumers in free markets everywhere.
We are all consumers. As such, we all want value for our dollar. When you downloaded that cool, free app that has improved your life in some way, you were informed prior to download what parts of your smartphone's capabilities would be utilized to run the app. And while there is room for discussion on how best to provide full disclosure (and whether or not it is being properly enforced), there is less room for arguing that it's a bad idea for businesses to market to their most promising customers by providing targeted, need-based solutions.