Richard Cope
Richard is a Senior Trends Consultant, bringing the latest consumer trends to Mintel clients through bespoke presentations and represents Mintel at global conferences.

richard-cope-mintelIf you would like to know what this trend – and others – mean for your business please contact Richard to discuss our trend presentation, project and facilitation services.E-mail:; Twitter @Richard_Mintel

If this was the year of being watched, then 2014 will see surveillance further subverted towards the ends of advertisers, retailers and consumers themselves.

The Data Debate

The fallout from the revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been scrutinising our phone, e-mail, social networking and search engine data has created debate and division and radically revised our notions of the definitions – and possibilities of – surveillance.

For instance, the previously held notion that Britain’s extensive closed circuit television network made it the definitive Big Brother state now seems almost quaint in its datedness, with CCTV becoming the ‘CD of surveillance’ almost overnight.

Meanwhile in America – where freedom is more celebrated, if not more treasured – Pew data showed how contentious data tracking has become: 56% of Americans deemed the NSA’s activities “acceptable”, against 41% who did not.

The New Store Detectives

At Mintel we’re seeing just how much data tracking is pervading the consumer consciousness. Our own data (obtained with consent from our survey providers) shows that 19% of Britons are concerned about use of their personal data personal data and 59% are uncomfortable when faced with advertising based on their browsing history, whilst 44% of Americans are concerned that social networking sites display too much personal information about them.

These anxieties may be amplified if we look at what’s around the corner, with advertisers and retailers readying themselves to track us in the ‘real world’. Unilever and Kimberly Clark have already tested retina tracking technology that creates heat maps of where consumers look in store, whilst Google has patented “pay-per-gaze” eye-tracking technology that can measure the media we look at, how long for and our emotional response via pupil dilation. And this is before we even get on to Google Glass.

Raising the Digital Drawbridge

Consumers are being empowered to protect themselves and we’re seeing a host of concepts, from the frivolous – witness Realface Glamouflage’s T-shirts adorned with images celebrity faces that confound Facebook’s auto tagging – to the flexible – step forward the PrivacyFix app that blocks retailers from being able to track shoppers through stores and Carnegie Mellon University’s Safeslinger app that encrypts text messages so that they cannot be read by network providers, employers or the employees of Big Brother.

Listening to Ourselves

Away from all the negativity surrounding surveillance, for us at Mintel the most compelling story has been the rise of benign monitoring technology, co-opted by consumers for their own ends.

We’ll increasingly see radical concepts – like the World Wildlife Fund’s tagging of 1,000 rhinos with microchips to combat illegal hunting – brought into our own homes and everyday lives. Practices such as the micro chipping of school uniforms will become more established and concepts like the Gecko – a low-powered Bluetooth device that can be attached to valuables so users can trace them through a smartphone app if they go missing – and the FiLIP – a wrist device that allows parents to track kids – have the potential to flourish in the commercial mainstream. As with so many current trends, the need to monitor and care for an ageing population will act as a key driver here.

We’re All Analysts

Wearable teach will quicken the trend towards ‘digital narcissism’ established by smartphone connectivity, as consumers graduate from scrutinising the cost of their groceries or their skin tone, to everything from their blood sugar levels to their sleeping patterns. We’re about to see the full flowering of the ‘Quantified Self’ movement first mooted by Wired’s Gary Isaac Wolf, where consumers become self-trackers. Google Glass is the slightly troubling poster boy of this new movement, because it raises the prospect of a development where we surreptitiously surveil each other. On the positive side it also promises a future where we can go on cultural deep dives in museums and galleries and one where constant filming – or ‘life logging’ – can be used to combat dementia.

Google glass may ultimately prove to be a red herring – too conspicuous and socially awkward to mainstream and worrying we’ve already seen the term ‘glassholes’ launch ahead of the device itself. Smartwatches may well prove to be a more convenient portal for self-monitoring, but a couple of things do now appear certain. One is that consumers are more conscious of the value of their data – be it to governments, retailers, advertisers or themselves. This in turn means that data will develop as a currency that consumers will want to exchange and analyse. The days of us giving away our shopping data for meagre ‘reward points’ are numbered. The new era of nutritional analysis of grocery baskets and smart clothing is coming.