We are back with our series of articles about personalized cigar recommendations and what we consider to be the key factors for a personalized service. Today we’ll focus on the privacy aspect and will also share with you some of the results of our latest customer satisfaction survey…
Science vs. Pragmatism
If you have read us before, you know that we operate as a lean-agile team. In alignment with our continuous improvement commitment, we conducted a non-scientific survey among our members. The survey was meant to understand where we’re doing well and where we can further improve our service. The areas we selected are the ones that we consider to be key success factors for our personalized service:
Today, we’ll focus on the privacy aspect.
On Privacy in recommender systems
Personalization inherently brings with it the debate of privacy, especially in the era of “Surveillance Capitalism”, where corporations hunt user data with ever more illegitimate and harmful consequences to individuals, behind the scenes or bypassing users’ consent. Data is power and, in these cases, this often translates into gigantic amounts of money.
In consideration of the above, it is understandable that privacy hazards for recommender systems are usually perceived as bad because accurate recommendations require large amounts of personal data. Obviously, the more complete and accurate are the user profiles, the more reliable are the recommendations. Hence, there is a trade-off between the users’ privacy and the accuracy of the recommendations provided to the users, which is maximized when users trust whom deals with their data.
Customers do want personalization today, they want to feel understood. While it is considered helpful, personalization needs to be transparent, secure and show benefit based on the collected data. Bottom line, if everything you are asking me is relevant and has a purpose that I benefit from, you can ask me the necessary data and you can gain my trust. Sure you don’t need my social security number to recommend what is the next best cigar for me. You need what is sufficient to avoid incorrect assumptions about what I like and don’t like.
“Privacy” is a big term. There are laws, but everyone of us may have a different way to consider something as an intrusion into privacy. For some it could be legal marketing tactics, like a website chat pop-up, for others push notifications, or ads featuring products already purchased. While I laugh at the latter, I don’t mind at all receiving an email telling me a cigar I was looking for is currently in the stock of a retailer, on the contrary, I appreciate it. And if it makes it easy for me to make a repeat purchase on a site I trust, I don’t mind giving more information beyond my email address.
How do we deal with privacy at Cigar Sense?
Needless to say we are not Google, nor Facebook or other tech giants, nor Cambridge Analytica. The erosion of democracy is not our secret goal. We have high aspirations but, come on, we are a tiny agile company looking at enhancing the enjoyment of a very small part of the population, the highly denigrated cigar smokers. In order to do that, we put the data to use for the members we serve and, recently for manufacturers and distributors who want to apply directional adjustments to their product planning with the intent to better serve their customers.
Furthermore, the illegitimate information requests we received tell you a lot about how “advanced” marketing tactics are in our industry, compared to the surveillance capitalism we face today in other aspects of our life.
When we talk about self-awareness, we don’t only talk about the ability to make educated purchases, but also about being aware of what personal data is being used for the output that is obtained based on that data. Obviously it needs to be appropriate and fit for purpose. But also, you need to have total knowledge and control over all the information you give us. As consumer advocates, we stand for your power and right to know and to decide what to share with us. We believe there shouldn’t be any conflict between privacy and businesses, and technology should not be assimilated to surveillance capitalism but should rather continue to be instrumental to individuals and humanity.
As to the economic aspect, we give a high value to the fact you allow us to render you a service. We collaborate with manufacturers or distributors because our mission includes our help in the availability of products that take consumers’ wants into account. Our data will always be presented in statistical form, aggregated at regional or country level.
Also in the case of focus groups that we conduct on behalf of manufacturers, any data we share will always be anonymized. In no case will we share personally identifiable information. Why would the industry need such granular information for their strategic planning after all?
Some people think that if you give your data for free you are the product, not the customer. We don’t agree. We’d rather say that were we not able to share anonymized data with the industry, we would not be able to offer you free memberships. Our free membership is not just a collection of your data, it’s a service made of unique features we invested a lot in. Our business model is conceived to provide independence in our advice to both consumers and marketers. Selling sponsorships or industry ads is very common today, but we hope we won’t need to do it as it may affect such independence.
How do our members rate us on privacy?
We asked our members to state how much they agree to the statement:
“My personally identifiable information is secure with Cigar Sense and never shared with third parties.”
We are very grateful to our members for recognizing what we strive for. Their overall score is 9.3 out of 10 for this important privacy related question.
We are very gratified by the trust our members placed in us!