In sci-fi movies we’ve seen that advertisements know your purchasing trends and provide target specific advertisements. Walking down the street, the billboard will reflect something you’re inclined to purchase. Good or bad, this is something which is beginning to take form online. In a recent Tech Republic Blog it exposes how the US House of Representatives is beginning to question ISP and other online agencies about their Behavioral Targeting practices. It is an interesting point to discuss. On one end, as a person who has no interest in beer and “female undergarments”, I really would appreciate not seeing those ads on signs, magazines and online pop-ups. Then again, it would probably be filled with the latest books, technology and most significantly ads relating to Disneyland. There may be way too much temptation for me if I saw such ads everywhere I turned… 🙂 But I digress…
There is nothing new about behavioral targeting, and it is used every day in virtually every form of advertising, ever since the science of marketing was invented. The problem that most people have is that instead of targeting a group, they are now targeting me specifically, and individually. And the fact that somebody knows that sort of information about me is concerning… or at least it is to some people. Yes, this information could be used for ill purposes. But stop for a moment and think about Amazon.com – they use this sort of individual, behavioral targeting – placing products I’d likely purchase on the homepage. Do we really have a problem with this sort of usage? At what point did we really be concerned about out privacy to this degree?
Let’s take a step back, and go low-tech for a moment. Rush back to the turn of the century, and you purchase your groceries from the local market. You see your regular clerk twice a week, and he notices by pure observation that you’re purchasing baby products, perhaps you even bring your child to the store. At some point there is a sale, or perhaps about to be a sale on cloth diapers (remember, no disposables back then!) — and he mentions this to you… Wouldn’t you be genuinely appreciative that he took a moment to acknowledge you as a unique person with specific needs – and then addressed them? Yet, fast forward to the 20th century — we would probably be offended by that same clerk today that he was prying into my private life… Last time I checked, things readily observable is not something any privacy law protects. How far is too far with this in-reach of privacy laws?
My guess is that it is the people that have something to hide – perhaps people involved in illegal or other questionable in legality — or perhaps just some things they think are slightly immoral, or would be the subject of questioning — if other people learned about their habbits. Now I don’t think our houses shoudl be made of glass walls — some things that take place in my home are made to be private… But if I am interacting with the world, then I really shouldn’t have the expectation of privacy: amazon is an extension of my local bookstore, and google is an extension of my library.