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geofencing

Big "Mac" Data

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Confession: When I was a kid, I ate way too many cheeseburger Happy Meals and played countless hours with Ronald McDonald, that purple lad, Grimace, and the mysterious masked Hamburglar on the old-school playground of yesteryear at McDonalds. 

This trip down memory lane leads me to what “Mickey D’s,” as I affectionally call the fast-food restaurant, is super-sizing on today — machine learning via the acquisition of Dynamic Yield, a Tel Aviv startup that provides algorithmically driven “decision logic” technology. The burger joint will be using this technology to meet and exceed the customer experience with innovation. Here’s how:

We all know the saying “time is money” in this swiftly paced world we live in, so the first deployment of the technology will be in McDonald’s drive thru to speed things up and increase sales. If the drive thru is moving slowly, a digital display could highlight simpler-to-prepare items to speed things up or likewise, when it’s slow highlight more complex-to-prepare, higher-priced food items. While customers grab a French fry out of the bag as they drive off and more fill the drive thru line, algorithms will be noshing on data — weather, time of day, local traffic, nearby events, historical sales data and data from other stores, for example — and then show customers on the display other popular items to prompt potential upsells as they place their order to a voice inside of a box. 

That seems a bit “big brother” in my opinion. I know when I get “hangree,” I’ll order whatever I want, no matter what a digital screen tells me and no matter how long it takes to prepare. But, I digress. 

Beyond the drive-thru, McDonald’s is currently using geofencing around its stores to know when a mobile app customer is approaching and how to prepare their order accordingly. 

The company is toying with the idea of adding the personal touch, turning their mass collection of data into usable information. Think in-store kiosks, mobile order and pay, customers identifying themselves to the store to personalize their hamburger experience, license plate recognition (LPR) that allows the system to identify a specific customer as they approach and adjust the menu based on their specific purchase history, and more. 

Of course, with what sounds like the most glamorous fast-food dining experience ever, I see two major types of risk involved: 

Privacy: The possibility of sensitive data being compromised, like credit card numbers, names, email addresses, phone numbers and real-time location identification is not only real but happens daily, threatening physical and financial safety and security.

Ethical issues: There’s a fine line between personalization and suggestive selling/influencing someone to buy something. While McDonald’s could personalize the experience and perhaps quicken the ordering process by displaying previously ordered items in the form of touchscreen ordering, they could also display only the most expensive items previously bought in an effort to increase sales without the customer being the wiser. 

Digital Yield will remain independently operated, even after the McDonald’s acquisition, and according to Wired, the offer was over $300 million, which makes it the restaurant’s largest purchase since its acquisition of Boston Market in 1999. 

I did the math based on the price of a single Big Mac in the Dallas, Texas area being $3.99. Adding this technology will cost McDonald's approximately 75,187,969 in Big Macs.

What other security risks can you think of related to this technology?