Remember the old days, when website sign-up forms looked like the one below?
To get a handle on the makeup of your audience you needed to find out who your user was, where they were from, and a number of other personal details. The only way to get that information used to be to ask your users up front — a request that many probably didn’t feel comfortable with. Nowadays, it’s much easier to obtain that information without even asking your users directly.
Just look at Facebook. The ultra-popular social networking website only asks users for basic information such as their E-mail address at first, making it exceptionally easy to convince users to open an account. Once a user is on Facebook, chances are they will willingly give up that information in an effort to connect with friends who like the same music, movies and products. Geolocation-based social networking service Foursquare doesn’t ask users to offer up any more than their E-mail during the sign-up process. But as soon as a user begins “checking in” at their favorite locations, the website learns their location, where they like to go and most importantly, where they spend their money.
Marketers thankfully haven’t devised a way to extract Social Security Numbers from social networking users, but location and spending habits have become fair game for any website smart enough to offer users a reason to provide personal information.