Most of us are aware that the information collected about us today and that is used for marketing purposes is much more detailed than in the past. Historic data collection, i.e. prior to the explosion in social media, required a person to actively give their name and other information. For example, back in the old days, I worked at a store called Radio Shack. When someone made a purchase, we would ask for their address so we could put them on the mailing list. That was pretty much all the data we collected; however, when someone ordered from a catalog, such as the Sears Catalog or the Spiegel Catalog they had the ability to gather information on where the customer lived, and what they purchased. The research departments could then extrapolate from that information but I think it’s very different today.
People readily give up personal information and preferences when they shop online, or do a google search, like a post on Facebook or Instagram, and save something on Pinterest. We give up our privacy when we take our phones with us when we travel and go into a store. Many people have no idea how to even begin to take control of their privacy. Think about how many times you’ve seen that Facebook post that people have been sharing around with a fictitious claim that by posting it on their timeline, they can stop Facebook from having permission to use their images, statements, etc.. Even though it’s been demonstrated to be false, you can count on it showing up at least once or twice a year.
Many think that the privacy issue might be viewed differently by various generations, and that older generations care more about their privacy. I do think that’s true to a degree; however, when I look at Facebook, I see numerous posts from member of my generation of pictures of children and grand-children, detailed travel itineraries, recent purchases, and of course political leanings. I also watch as millions play games where they gladly give up their legal name, addresses, birth days, favorite colors, mother’s maiden name, and so on, all of which a data scraper can gather and use in cyber-attacks. Of course, the data we willingly offer up can be and often is sold to the highest bidder, or used to target advertising to us; I did a search on protein drinks and for weeks afterwards was inundated with ads for various products. The question is, can anything really be done to deal with the issue?
In a TED talk, professor Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland addressed the issue and offered some suggestions, as to having more regulation, and questioned whether we could go down the Policy of Law Path, she wondered if it would even be possible to get politicians to sit down and become educated. She also addressed the issue that since monetization depends on ads, having the companies self-regulated might not even come close to being a solution. Since I run several websites that depend on targeted advertising, I have to agree that I cannot afford to have to deliver generic bland ads when I have the capability to deliver ads that might actually resonate with the audience. Maybe the best path to deal with the situation is to let science be the answer, give the user more information and a greater ability to control what information of theirs they truly share with the world. That if they say, friends only, then it should only go to friends and nobody else. If they do a Google search, they have to understand that they have shown an interest in a specific product or area. If they buy online at Amazon or Walmart, (or any ecommerce retailer) that purchase will be stored in the company’s datafiles and can potentially be used in the future for suggested purchases.
I believe that ultimately it is up to each of us to understand how the data we place online might be used and that we take appropriate steps to insure that our data is used correctly.