Struggling to maintain its customer base amid lagging sales, soft drink giant Coca-Cola has developed a new program in partnership with grocery supermarkets that invades people’s smartphones in order to steal their private information and send them custom-tailored coupons and other marketing material – this, after previously attempting to boost sales by pushing soda for breakfast.
Albertsons is reportedly the first grocery chain to adopt the technology, which utilizes digital signage placed at grocery end caps that targets shoppers and drives them towards the beverage aisle. Once there, shoppers are offered coupons and other promotions designed to entice them to buy more high-fructose corn syrup-laden soft drinks.
According to Food Dive, Coca-Cola has so far launched the program in 250 stores as part of a pilot effort to see how well it goes. But privacy advocates are railing over the invasive nature of the technology, which has the ability to collect personal information from people’s smartphones and use it for digital marketing.
Utilizing Google Cloud technologies, the digital signage being employed by Coca-Cola collects data from smartphones that it then uses to deliver targeted messaging as a potential customer walks down an aisle. As he or she moves near the display, it uses this information to deliver content that the company hopes will drive the shopper to the soda aisle.
“We can understand who the consumer is and get the right content and messaging to him or her at the right time,” says Greg Chambers, global group director of digital innovation at Coca-Cola. “We’re using the power of the cloud to bring a real-time, media-rich experience to shoppers in the store.”
Coca-Cola admits that fewer and fewer shoppers are venturing down the soda aisle, presumably because more and more shoppers are becoming aware of the toxicity of sugar-laden soft drinks. Thus, the company has had to seek other avenues to lure them back, this latest attempt already showing a return on investment after just one month.
And again, the way Coca-Cola is able to enter people’s smartphones is through the Google platform, which mines personal data in order to tailor brand advertising to specific users. This is, of course, the catch behind Google’s “free” email and other services – customers don’t have to pay, so long as they sign away their right to personal privacy.
It’s the same model that social media giant Facebook uses, allowing its users to congregate and converse online for “free,” a.k.a. allow their personal browsing habits and other activities to be tracked. Users of such systems will increasingly notice that after visiting, say, a home improvement website, for instance, that advertising for tools, lawnmowers, and floor tile will suddenly start appearing on their Facebook “timelines.”
Back in 2014, the U.K. paper The Guardian announced this phenomenon as “The death of privacy,” noting that, thanks to the internet, our private lives “have been winnowed away to the realm of the shameful and secret.” And while tracking soft drink purchasing habits may not be all that big of a threat, the technology itself is inherently problematic for personal privacy in general.
“Insidiously, through small concessions that only mounted up over time, we have signed away rights and privileges that other generations fought for, undermining the very cornerstones of our personalities in the process,” writes Alex Preston.
“While outposts of civilisation fight pyrrhic battles, unplugging themselves from the web – ‘going dark’ – the rest of us have come to accept that the majority of our social, financial and even sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether state, press or corporation, is watching.”