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Data Collection & Attendee Privacy: Should Venues Care?

By now, we’re all well aware of the huge impact that data collection and tracking technologies have had on the events industry. Mobile apps, RFID, beacons, geofencing, – all of it can be a source of hugely valuable insight into attendee behavior and preferences. For event organizers and meeting planners, the obvious benefits of knowing more about who’s attending their shows and how they’re moving around the floor include opportunities to improve future programming, more efficient floor plans and more profitable booth sales and sponsorships. Likewise, knowing what works best for their space can also give venue managers a leg up in the sales process.

But as tracking technology moves forward, where do event professionals draw the line between capturing this kind of valuable information and the privacy concerns of attendees? Perhaps more importantly, is it the same place attendees think it should be?

The Stakes

You might be thinking data privacy isn’t a big concern in the events industry just yet – especially for venues, as it is typically event planners and organizers who are on the front lines in this department. Admittedly, the way most event data is being used right now is either obvious enough to need little to no explanation (an opt-in, show specific mobile app, for example) or for aggregate, seemingly benign purposes like heat mapping.

However, you don’t have to look too far to find examples of other industries that have come under intense scrutiny for being less than transparent about when, how and why information is being collected. Facebook, Google, AT&T, Sprint and several other well-known brands and businesses have found themselves in hot water with consumers and government regulators alike over data privacy concerns.

You’ve also probably noticed that practically every event management expert out there listed a growing emphasis on more individualized attendee data collection in their 2015 predictions for the industry. Meeting & IT event expert, Corbin Ball, included the expansion of attendee data collection near the top of his list, noting plans in the works for iBeacon technology to collect information from attendee social media profiles, exhibition booth dwell time measurement and personalized, on-site notifications or messages sent direct to an attendee’s smartphone.

Event tech expert, Michelle Bruno, also contends that data collection in 2015 is poised to allow a truly 360-degree view of attendees:

“Virtually everything that can be known about an attendee—demographic information, social media activity, content preferences, on-site behaviors, mobile usage, networking habits, in-session engagement, opinions—will be placed within reach.”

As far as venues are concerned, it’s easy for industry insiders to forget that your average attendee has no idea there’s a difference between the folks that plan the show, the folks that sponsor the show and the venue that hosts the show. If an event that took place in your facility comes under fire, your venue gets burned too.

For a business that is based on building relationships, it’s easy to see then why all event professionals should tread lightly and plan ahead for attendee data privacy issues.

Legal Implications

When you’re thinking about the data collection policy for your venue, there’s two different sides of the coin to consider: Your legal liability and public perception.

Although it sounds a little scarier, the legal part is pretty easy: seek counsel to ensure you’re in compliance with privacy laws and what, if any, liability you have for the data collection activities of planners, vendors and exhibitors on your premises.

After you’ve nailed that down, consider how you can work with event organizers to ensure their plans are on the right side of the law. This could be as simple as making disclosure of any plans for data collection a standard part of your contract process– which also sets the stage for how you can go about keeping your public image squeaky clean.

Check back soon for the second post in our three part series on attendee privacy and venues when we’ll discuss best practices for shaping public perception.

This blog was originally posted on Social Tables

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