I’ve been reading a lot about sites and services that are using user data, sometimes anonymous data, sometimes explicitly tied to an individual, to create digital experiences designed to make the user’s online experience, or in some cases, life, better. The problem is that most every one of these services is eroding people’s privacy in a couple of different ways. From Google’s Health service, which let’s you store all your medical data in one accessible place, (including, ostensibly, accessible by Google itself) to ads served to you that know what you want and therefore can be seen as offering a benefit to the user. I just read a white paper by Boston Consulting Group that clearly outlines the imperative for marketers to take advantage of behavioral targeting, identifying site visitors by cookie, and then serving them ads as they surf the net based on what they were doing on your site in the first place. It’s a brilliant marketing tactic, because it drives higher click throughs and other engagement in your messaging, and ultimately drives warm traffic back to your site to accomplish whatever you want accomplished there. But are people aware they are being “tracked” and if they have a vague notion they are, can they control their data? Perhaps, more on that in a bit.
Against this backdrop are the privacy advocates who decry any sort of data collection as an invasion of privacy, despite privacy policies stating this practice by most of the marketers they are complaining about. Most of these privacy policies of course never get read by those intended to read them, and most sites are fine with that situation.
Now, in an effort in industry self regulation, the online ad industry is attempting to solve this sticky problem by proposing that advertisers alert those who see ads that they may be being tracked behaviorally, and to allow those people to join a sort of do-not-call registry for BT. This brings me to my point: While most of us do not like the idea of being “tracked” a we go about our private lives online, the fact remains that the vast majority of us outside the marketing industry aren’t really that conscious of these issues and so go happily about their day being tagged, cookied, targeted, and otherwise de-privatized.
So the question is, knowing that you can’t order ecommerce goods without a cookie tracking you through the shopping cart experience, or have the computer remember your email password without risking someone somewhere having more access to your personal data, or have a retailer track your every purchase through your frequent shopper data, should we as Americans be worried about how much we’re giving up to be living in our digital paradise?
I’ll leave that up to you to decide, I can tell you, I haven’t decided myself, and as a Libertarian at heart, I should be aghast at the amount of my personal life i give up to random strangers every day. But, as one of like 3 BB online netizens, at the end of the day, I want my internet, and no amount of personal invasion is going to tamp down that desire.