Conversational interactions and asynchronous messaging can help solve data privacy problems that arise when authenticated users provide information via conversational chatbots, says Max Kirby, director of digital identity and cloud solutions at Publicis Sapient.
Companies are constantly collecting data on individuals to fuel surveillance capitalism. Until recently, that data collection has been conducted discretely (e.g. cookies) or collected in forms filled out in exchange for providing some benefit or service (e.g. creating an account).
“Conversational technology is increasingly being used to facilitate data collection,” says Kirby.
Conversational platforms attempt to understand consumer intent by using verbal or written communication from a user via smart speakers and chatbots. The technology goes beyond one-off interactions such as search queries to build conversational context that helps determine what the customer wants.
“Customer systems are almost always better at their job when they understand intent, but the technology, user behavior and the internet ecosystem have to develop together, and we’re still in the early stages of using conversational data to determine intent,” says Kirby “That’s why right now we are seeing human-machine hybrids cross the gap.”
Interacting with a machine can be made to seem like talking to a person, but it’s fundamentally different. People do not have perfect, limitless memories.
“The fact that computers do not forget unless they are told to makes the problem more complex,” says Kirby.
This is the core of the problem when it comes to privacy. The technology used to interact with businesses is always watching. Individuals’ digital interactions are always recorded. The more people interact, the more attention they are attracting to themselves. A potential solution to this problem is asynchronous messaging.
Asynchronous messaging or “async messaging,” refers to two parties contacting each other without both parties needing to be concurrently active in the conversation.
With asynchronous messaging, a conversation does not necessarily have a clearly defined end. It starts with the first message sent. From there, conversation participants can pause and resume the conversation, dipping in and out of it as needed.
The conversation happens when it needs to happen, just as it might if you walked into a store and were helped by a salesperson but then left to shop on your own until you needed help again.
“From a privacy perspective, asynchronous messaging means that you, as a business, don’t need to collect all the data about me up front,” says Kirby.
“If I’m in a conversational experience, instead of asking me to provide personal information ahead of the moment you need it, you can wait and just start with a greeting. If I don’t want to provide my name, I can move to the next step in the conversation and you have learned I might have privacy sensitivities. That’s something that a one-off form with a mandatory field can’t do.”
Asynchronous messaging takes advantage of micro-moments to get and use relevant information from consumers right at the moment it is important.
An example of this is how conversational commerce systems use messaging to move consumers through the purchasing funnel, asking relevant questions at appropriate times (e.g. “So you’re interested in purchasing boots. Can you tell me your shoe size?”)
“If it’s in a conversation not a form, and I know that someone is digitally going back into the shelves and looking for the shoes in my size, I recognize that they need that information to help me. That means I’m much more willing to give, and I can also revoke it if it’s not relevant.”
Kirby says conversational platforms could enable consumers to have much better control of their data and privacy preferences.
“The experience we expect might start with, ‘Do you give us permission to know your shoe size? Yes or No.’ If I say yes, it might then say, ‘how long can I remember this information?’ or ‘Would you like to revoke that information at the end of our conversation?’ The answer would then trigger the essential GDPR or CCPA opt out.”
This approach holds major promise, because while research shows that most people do not know much about how their data is managed, fewer still understand how to delete it. This is partially because companies do not want to make it easy and partially because understanding the subject matter is difficult.
Conversational interactions that give consumers an easy and natural way to delete their data have the potential to make the web a lot more human, from a memory perspective. It forces the web to forget.
This is a glimpse of what privacy control might look like in the future, but for now, Kirby notes there’s a critical roadblock to using asynchronous messaging for privacy management—authentication.
Oauth2 authenticates a user by enabling them to log into a website or app using third party servers like Google, Facebook or Amazon. This is often more secure than homegrown identity management. But it also puts the “keys” of the web in the hands of the major platforms.
“The major platforms are authenticating the web,” says Kirby. “Conversational technologies would work for privacy management when you are speaking directly to the owner of the data. If you are doing that through an ‘agent’-like relationship where a platform is listening in on the conversation, the privacy benefits could be delayed or nullified.”
Kirby says conversational technology offers a possible solution to the authentication/privacy dilemma because it could be adopted by those same platforms to offer control of their data as well.
“Currently, from a UX perspective, deleting your data is one of the least likely things to happen because doing that by accident is made to be almost impossible. The shift towards conversation as opposed to websites and clicks will put pressure on companies to make it easier for customers to control what they do with their data. With conversational technology, customers will potentially see how easy it is to control their own data by simply asking a chatbot to delete it and they will expect companies to make the process as user friendly as possible.”
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