May 252011

As a keen social media user/evangelist I tend to have a very liberal view of my personal data. I register for sites all the time and there is therefore an awful lot of information out on the web about me. But at Internet World last week (fuller blog post on that to follow) I found myself feeling more cautious than usual about my data when I was issued a badge with a barcode on the front:

Image of the front of the Internet World 2011 conference badge

Image of the back of the Internet World 2011 conference badge

The badge, it transpired, could be used by any exhibitor to quickly grab personal data.  The terms (just visible on that reverse image) were printed on the badge and, on some level, I suppose this trade of data for information was an expected part of attending the event for free. It was still a slight surprise to find a scanner greeting me at every stand…

All of the exhibitors I encountered asked before swiping my badge (though they didn’t explain their data protection policy and I didn’t think to ask) and there were some definite advantages – I didn’t have to write down my details endlessly making for much quicker exchanges of information. But there were some less optional encounters – gaining access to any talk at the event required you to show your badge for scanning – and these details could then also be relayed to the speaker. Data Protection wise you are still “agreeing” to share your data but by the time you have queued for half an hour you are pretty unlikely to say no.

Image of Jelly Beans

Jelly beans by Mark Hillary (markhilary on Flickr)

“Schwag” – free stuff branded with logos and product info and handed out by exhibitors – is always a big part of these sorts of expos and are always used as an incentive to share data. I heard one attendee behind me in the queue excitedly showing off the free jelly belly beans being handed out by an exhibitor. Whenhis colleagues asked him where he’d gotten them he replied “oh they were free but I just had to get my badge scanned”. That seemed like a pretty good deal for the exhibitor to me – for a few pence they capture the full contact details and job title of your target market. That’s not to say that I didn’t let my own badge get scanned but I tried to only do so where I had genuine interest in being on the relevant company’s mailing list – jelly beans, free ice cream even, were not enticements enough on their own.

Reputation (personal and brand)

On an interesting and sort of related note… Nature recently published a poll and article on the importance of reputation and online image to researchers. Well worth a look (as are the survey results) for anyone thinking about doing a little spring cleaning of their online profiles.

By contrast… Facebook has enabled Brand Tagging (more info in this Mashable article). This allows any Facebook user to tag a brand in a photo. Why would anyone do this? Well there are two main reasons: people want to share pictures of themselves enjoying a branded product (maybe to show off, maybe to name check a song, maybe just because they really love the idea of being associated with a brand) particularly if that is fed into the Facebook page for that brand (witness, for instance, the already well populated “Photos and Videos of…” section of the Coca Cola Photos page) ; secondly this does enable new types of competitions to take place (further evolving the “in 20 words or less explain why x is your favourite brand of y” type contest).

There is, of course a third and more subversive reason for tagging an image with your favourite brand though: if Coca Cola has 27 million fans (as it currently does) and you want to sell or promote or share something with lots of people quickly you could do far worse than post your image with an incorrect brand tag. I suspect the time involved in brands removing tags over the first few months of trialling the tags will be significant…