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February 8, 2012
The Web Owns You, And Not The Other Way Around
I want to recommend an article from The Atlantic web site, an excerpt from a book on digital advertising by Joseph Turow. He is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are the first two paragraphs:
At the start of the 21st century, the advertising industry is guiding one of history's most massive stealth efforts in social profiling. At this point you may hardly notice the results of this trend. You may find you're getting better or worse discounts on products than your friends. You may notice that some ads seem to follow you around the internet. Every once in a while a website may ask you if you like a particular ad you just received. Or perhaps your cell phone has told you that you will be rewarded if you eat in a nearby restaurant where, by the way, two of your friends are hanging out this very minute.
You may actually like some of these intrusions. You may feel that they pale before the digital power you now have. After all, your ability to create blogs, collaborate with others to distribute videos online, and say what you want on Facebook (carefully using its privacy settings) seems only to confirm what marketers and even many academics are telling us: that consumers are captains of their own new-media ships.
As Professor Turow goes on to say, we are hardly the captains of that ship. More like the cargo. This is not news. There are plenty of privacy activists out there saying the same thing for some time now. What makes this article different is that Turow goes deeper into the practices of the advertising industry and documents some of its practices. They are not all in this excerpt, meant as an introduction, though he identifies practices which are documented in more detail in later chapters. These are thought provoking even in their limited statement.
One is that web browsing habits shape what ads are offered. That would be something obvious, but the detail of how that process works is a bit unsettling. It’s not broad matching based on merely clicking ads. It’s the content of the page one visits, combined with real world information such as credit ratings, address, physical purchases, and other traceable information. While cookies and login information help this process, they are not essential to it. Advertisers apparently have the ability to track individuals across unique devices to help develop a profile for individuals. Erasing cookies regularly doesn't impede tracking.
The more insidious result of this is how it can shape an individual’s web experience. As Turow notes, unrelated news sites may tailor the stories presented to an individual based on prior interest. This isn’t merely represented in the changing stories that appear in links at the bottom of the page. It extends to the clustering of topical stories that populate a page. This is irrespective of any ads that are served as how we use information becomes part of the complete profile.
The other effect Turow notes is the social implication of this practice. We may see news and ads based on a social status gleaned from detailed information advertisers collect about our habits, and these may become self-reinforcing. This can be true in circumstances where individuals might start comparing their web experiences with others. We would find that some people get better offers than others, and that news and opportunities may be better for some than others. The examples in the excerpt are striking. Turow suggests that this is another form of discrimination. This is a form of net neutrality no one has discussed in any great length.
A lot of this is usually presented in the nebulous but somewhat positive term of “personalization.” The real problem is not whether personalization is desirable but rather how that comes about. It’s easy to enjoy the benefits of the online experience and the prospect of personalization provided we don’t know the details of exactly how that works. As such, we can’t make the decision as to whether personalization is worth the cost. We might also have a different view of personalization if we knew the degree to which our online and real life habits were combined. I’d like to think that my credit history is secure. The operative term here is “like.” The excerpt is provocative as it is scary. Even non-paranoid types would find this information useful. The book is called The Daily You. [MG]
As what I have understood, if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer, instead, you're the product being sold. We should keep in mind that when you're not paying with cash you're paying with your personal information.
Posted by: drinkwatergoldsteinlaw.com | Feb 11, 2012 8:48:39 AM