Private Eyes Are Watching You

Since Google announced a change in its privacy policy, online privacy appears to be the media’s issue du jour.  Congress may even weigh in with legislation (and probably create a big FUBAR in the way only the gooberment can).

From my side of the monitor, I really don’t understand what the hissy fit is all about.  If folks were paying Google for its various services, instead of having a free ride, I’d have a different opinion.  But Google does not charge a single penny for most its services.  I use many Google services: search engine, browser, e-mail and blog distribution service (Feedburner).

Do folks expect Google to be a charity?  Or, to put it in another perspective, do folks have a right to cyber welfare from Google? (Unfortunately, the answer to that latter question is “yes” for many folks but I believe most readers of this blog are on a higher level.)

One of the underlying premises of a “free” Internet is that advertisers will pay for the cost of the service so the rest of us won’t have to.  And most advertisers understandably don’t want to pay for a shotgun approach to cyber advertising, hoping you’ll click on their ad.  They want to target advertising to those folks who have a higher likelihood of being interested in what the advertiser has to offer.

Which is why Google is going to track what you’re doing.  I have no problem with that if the result is advertising geared to my interests.  I’d much rather see a dozen ads about travel deals, which interest me, than one ad about diapers, which don’t interest me.

This week, I experienced just what Google is doing.  With CD rates so low, I’m planning on a short term investment in tax free municipal bonds.  I used Google to check out the return rates, expense costs, etc. for various municipal bond mutual funds I’m considering.  A few hours later, while looking at some Las Vegas hotel deals, Google offered me an advertised link to some municipal bond funds.  Hmmmm…..

No one has to use Google services.  Anyone disagreeing with its new policy is… free… to go elsewhere.  If it appears there’s enough interest, someone will develop a browser you can buy and which will not track you.  (I wonder how many folks professing privacy concerns would put their money where their mouth is and actually buy such a browser?)

But what I find really…interesting…is there doesn’t seem to be much fuss over what, for me, is a much more invidious violation of privacy.  I’m referring to the tracking that brick and mortar stores do.

The New York Times had an eye-opening article about how statisticians at Target can use information from your buying habits to predict, for example, who is pregnant so they can…target…those persons with advertising aimed at the new purchases needed for a new baby.  Their prediction model is so good that a father stormed into a store to complain about his young daughter receiving ads for new baby products.  Later, he apologized when his daughter confessed that she was in fact pregnant.  (Read the article if you missed it.  If you’re interested in this topic, there’s a lot of good information at the Wall Street Journal.)

So how is what Target doing different from Google?  Because unlike Google, Target is tracking paying customers who are already adding to its bottom line.  If I’m already paying a company, I don’t accept that it’s appropriate for it to be tracking me without my permission.

Unless you’re paying cash, most stores are probably tracking you.  I’m sure my grocery knows I buy skim milk, high protein cereals, low sodium soup, wheat bread, white sharp cheddar cheese, etc.  I’m just not sure what they’re doing with that information…

Possibly nothing more than figuring how much of each product to buy. Or maybe they have a model that concludes folks buying these items also enjoy, say, gay midget porn and my mailbox will soon be bursting with offers.  😉

But apart from the New York Times, how much fuss is the media making over this tracking?  Why isn’t Congress talking about legislation to stop stores from tracking us? Isn’t what’s good for the cyber goose  good for the concrete gander?

Orwell’s “1984” was only half right.  It’s not just Big Brother government monitoring us.   Whether you’re on line or in line, private eyes are watching you…and they see your every move.

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One response to “Private Eyes Are Watching You

  1. I suspected as much. When that little machine spits out coupons after I’ve made my Target purchases, they’re always things I have or probably will use. After making several pet supply purchases, I was grateful for the dog food coupons I got.

    I can’t say I’m all that bothered about being tracked for advertising purposes. I’m going to be subjected to advertising no matter what I do. Might as well get some benefit from it.

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