I have some sort of in-built deeply-rooted objection to the mindless collection of data by organisations; this happens with organisations of all sizes however there does appear to be some correlation between increasing scale of organisation and the pointlessness of the data collection activity. My objection is only about 50% rational – it is clearly being collected to use for the collector’s benefit in some context – I don’t like the lack of transparency and outright lies on this issue. The other 50% is that I just don’t like it anyway.
In response, I have developed a habit of giving people (or internet forms) made-up data when it is clear that the collector has no justifiable need for it in the context of the current transaction or dialogue. You will have your own opinions on this blatant lying, however I did receive some recent support from a colleague who had worked with the intelligence agencies who told me that that is exactly what they advise their own staff to do (let’s not dwell too long on the irony of this…).
Just this week, I went to the showroom of a well-known car manufacturer to inquire about purchasing a car. The salesman introduced himself and asked if he could take a few details. We then commenced an exercise in ‘computer says’ compliance, which didn’t last long, when I declined to share my address. I don’t need to give my contact details to try on a pair of jeans, so why are they needed to open a car door in a showroom so I can look inside the car?
Many people, in particular in higher-end transactions, will immediately acquiesce when they are challenged on this and simply carry on without the data collection. However this guy looked like he was going to cry and then made an argument to the effect that he was having to invest time in showing me around and my payback was to give him my contact details (kind of overlooking the fact that I could just make them up). This live experiment was just too good to miss and I passed up the opportunity to engage in my normal lying (I was also mildly conscious that he might actually need my details if I wanted to buy – bit embarrassing to have to tell him the initial ones were made up).
The salesman stuck to his guns in response to some probing from me and expanded further saying that he needed to justify how he spent his time, before shooting himself in the foot by saying that of course, ‘some customers don’t…’. I was actually at the point of giving in until he said that, after which, no chance!
At this point, the penny dropped for me. This was actually some sort of performance indicator for him. I never found whether it was for a time sheet or for pure data collection purposes, but I reflected that you pretty much always get what you reward. And if you reward the means, rather than the ends, then the means become the ends. The salesman was at least as worried about collecting data as selling me cars. The irony is that people do business with people they like. For me, that doesn’t include ‘data suckers’. If he’d made a bit more effort to build a rapport with me and offered me the right car solution, I’d probably have been more than happy to share my details so he could follow up.