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By Angela Hey

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About this blog: I write about technology companies, trends and events in and around Mountain View. Where else can you find startups nurtured by Y-Combinator and 500 Startups working alongside multi-billion corporations like Google, Symantec and I...  (More)

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Do you find online ads and apps creepy?

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2013
When you browse the web, do you feel creepy? Companies track your moves, your behavior, your likes, your travels and your Tweets resulting in masses of data. When you see an ad on Facebook featuring your friend, does that make you feel creepy?

At last Wednesday's discussion on Big Data Uses in High Tech, at Microsoft's Mountain View campus, panelists unanimously agreed that marketing managers, who gather data from customers, shouldn't make people feel creepy.

T.M. Ravi, co-founder of The Hive incubator, interviewed Shashi Kiran, manager of business intelligence at Cisco, Sendil Thangavelu, corporate director of analytics and data management at Flextronics, Ram Nagaraj, director of business intelligence and master data at Aruba Networks, and Michael Greene, head of customer 360 view at Symantec.

Shashi said that historically business analysts have looked at what customers have bought. Now they must think about what customers are going to buy next. For example, at Cisco, which sells networking equipment and services, an executive might want to know which customers who have bought routers are going to buy switches. Information technologists designed dashboards for managers to see corporate information at a glance. Now self-service solutions where employees can customize their own screens to show just the information they need are replacing dashboards.

Interestingly, Google's dashboard for consumers, iGoogle which showed personalized news and information is being shut down on November 1st. News sources are constantly changing and users are experienced in searching for their own information, they don't need a pre-designed dashboard.

Sendil likened Big Data analysis to finding a needle in a haystack. He said the challenge is to choose the right haystack. Manufacturers like Flextronics have long had systems to link their suppliers. Wireless tags, apps, factories and transportation systems are creating new data streams. Therefore, manufacturers and suppliers must share meaningful data to reduce costs and streamline operations. Sendil sees a trend towards shorter development cycles for enterprise software, with projects lasting less than 3 months.

Aruba makes WiFi equipment that is used by its customers to collect information. Ram noted that you might be roaming around a store and detected by the store's wireless network. I wonder what Safeway found out about me as I read my personalized offers on their iPhone app at the back of the supermarket recently? Ram says there are two main ways that WiFi is used in a store.

First, if you have an app, you have most likely given the store permission to send you coupons when you are in the store. So WiFi is used to inform an individual of a special offer. I find Shopilly an annoying app that lets me know of special shopping deals when I walk into certain stores. However, I don't want to drop it as I'm curious as to what it will offer me next. Some people find it creepy that a store knows what a person is likely to buy next, others see it as a useful service.

Secondly, WiFi is used to see which locations in a store or entertainment venue are the busiest. This can help designers create new store layouts and attractions.

Symantec is well-known for its security products, both for consumers and companies. Michael noted that when customers call with problems the reps answering the phone used to be measured on how quickly they could solve a problem and get rid of the customer. Companies can now pull in data from different parts of the business, so you might call with a software installation problem, but find that the call center rep knows you didn't renew a subscription to another product. This is where big companies have to be careful in analyzing customer data – they don't want to scare customers with creepy messages. Check out Symantec's Privacy Policy if you are concerned.

The Network Advertising Initiative offers consumers the option of not being tracked online. It can help you set up your web-browser so it doesn't store information (e.g. cookies) that companies use to track you. I like to be tracked so that the ads I see are relevant and companies don't waste marketing dollars creating ads I don't want.

Since I first wrote about The Hive, its Big Data Think Tank has grown to over 3200+ members with 150 to 450 people per event. Be safe in this spooky season and don't freak out over online ads.

(Note: if you plan to visit Microsoft's conference center, the front door is currently closed due to construction, so park near the back door.)

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