The Future of Privacy at Tradeshows in the Age of Big Data

Today’s events are full of technologies that track attendee movement and gather unprecedented amounts of data. The age of big data and sheer volume of connected devices also brings about privacy concerns; how do event planners balance running an efficient, engaging, and personalized event with the need to protect attendee privacy?

Continue reading for more information on the future of privacy in the event industry.

Examples of Technologies that Track Data
Technologies such as badge scanners and RFID systems are widely used in the event industry for a number of use cases; everything from enabling exhibitors to instantly receive lead information and event hosts to track attendance at sessions to simply letting authorized people through the front door of an event. While some systems may not contain personal information—or only work with direct attendee consent—the amount of personal data being shared through these types of technologies at events is massive and must be identified piece by piece.

When is Tracking Information Okay?
Understanding attendee privacy involves part common sense and part checking all the right boxes to make sure certain lines aren’t being crossed. Devices used to track footsteps for attendance metrics, and other instances without personal data, shouldn’t be a major concern. So too are instances like filming entire crowds of attendees in a public setting where the focus isn’t on a single individual.

On the other hand, sharing personal information from registration data with exhibitors or tracking individual attendee movement around the facility needs to be paired with a plan to communicate with attendees what exactly is being tracked and to keep data secure. A good rule of thumb is to take extra care whenever a person can be singled out from the crowd by the type of data you’re tracking.

How to Communicate with Attendees
Communication about privacy should start with information at registration about what kind of data is being tracked and how it’s being used. Complete transparency is the best way forward, as well as providing an opt-out for attendees who do not want to be tracked. Good communication leads to a surprisingly small number of opt-outs and less potential for issues after the event.

Also, consider spontaneous moments like taking pictures for social media; ideally, event staff asks an attendee if it’s okay to post a picture if the shot is clearly of the individual or small group.

Storing Sensitive Data
Communicating with attendees is only part of the puzzle. The data you do track must be kept secure and discarded once it’s no longer of use to your organization or approved third parties. Work with proven suppliers with a track record for data security and research the details like the PCI compliance level of the technology platforms, how and where data is stored, and who has access to the data. Keep in mind some technology providers may even have a legal right to your user data for marketing purposes, so make sure to read the fine print and ask the right questions.

A Global Perspective
It’s also worth noting the European Union passed a General Data Protection Regulation—to take effect in 2018—that requires companies to handle data in a secure manner. Not only does the regulation impact events held in the European Union, but also events with citizens of the EU. Understanding what compliance means concerning the global community and staying ahead of new laws is becoming more important with every passing year.

The Bottom Line
The age of big data is great for personalizing events and creating better engagement for attendees; it also helps event hosts, exhibitors, and sponsors track attendees and gather vital lead information. With this influx of data comes important data security concerns that each event planner must address to ensure attendee privacy is respected. Communicate with attendees and partner with the right technology solutions to keep pace with big data and the evolution of trade shows.