Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why would anyone watch me?

It suddenly hit me how bizarre the discussion on privacy is, after reading a blog by Steve Smith on how delighted he is that he's finally getting targeted advertising.

Regardless of where you stand on the privacy issue, the fact is that a great deal is known about us. Our browsers and web sites track where we've been (though our ISPs are forbidden from doing so). Our credit card companies know where we've been or what we've bought. Our supermarkets and pharmacies, if we have a frequent-buyer card, know to a high level of granularity exactly what we've bought. Our cell phones know where we are located, so in theory, our cell phone company knows at a minimum where we've been roaming to, but also in theory, who our friends are and how long we spend talking with them. Our employers can track our computer activity and know what we did on our computer all day long.

All of the above is for people who don't use things like Twitter, Facebook, Pandora, Skype, Plaxo, or instant messaging. If you use any of those, in theory, someone knows a lot more. In that case, potentially, anyone could know who your friends or colleagues are, what music you like, what parties you go to, and what you ate for breakfast this morning.

For most of us, that's at least a bit disturbing. For many of us, it's even intrusive or creepy. Most of us don't want to think too much about what could be done with that level of information, if it indeed could be made sense of (not trivial at all).

The sad, indeed, pathetic, part is that the only thing our society can think of to do with all that data is to sell us more stuff. Most of the privacy debate revolves around varying levels of outrage of what corporations are going to do with that data, what they are going to advertise to us, and how intrusive they will be in their marketing efforts. Now, I don't know about you, but I have a feeling I will be seing more, not less advertising in the future, and if it's going to be brash, at least let it be for feminine hygiene products and not for prostate treatments. (Either you agree with me on that one or feel just the opposite, as the case may be.) If it's not going to brash, let it be about ice cream and not cars (again, your taste may vary).

But back to my point.

What does it say about us that the only thing we can think of to do with personal data is to monetize it? Some of us are aware of how to use that data for the greater good, but at best, the implementaitons are marginal.

What does it say about us that our opposition to using personal data is revolved around corporations wanting to monetize it? Some of us are aware it could be used to really harm us or for our government (or someone else's government) to keep tabs on us, and we certainly oppose that, but it isn't the dominant conversation.

Yes, it is frightening that corporations own so much information about me personally.
But to me, it's even more frightening that we are living in a society where the primary, if not only, meaure of the worth of anything is in dollars.

No comments: