If you use the internet – if you have not spent the last several years in religious seclusion, or a very deep cave – you will almost certainly have had the experience of watching a crop of alarmingly relevant ads bloom wherever your browsing takes you. Whether of the intrusive, buttonholing, highly annoying variety, or just loitering on the margins of what you’re doing, these ads have in common an appeal minutely tailored to you. Or at least the cyber-translation of your self. If you read about sports, online, you will have been bombarded by memorabilia-merchants, jersey-retailers, jockstrap-peddlers. If you read about books or writing, you will have suffered, at every juncture, the humiliating temptation of online self-publishing. And if you’re into leather, well, the jockstrap-peddlers may have gotten to you, too . . .
There is, needless to say, nothing random about this. For some time, advertisers have been garnering, aggregating, and aggressively utilizing intimately private data about your browsing habits to push their products on you.
In an effort to quell, or at least reduce to a calmer pitch, public concern over the imperilment of consumer privacy, the Future of Privacy Forum, an independent privacy advocacy group, today unveils, after many months’ stewing and tinkering, “the privacy i”. Read the NYT report here. Henceforward, advertisers will be encouraged – if not quite compelled – to include the natty little icon in a corner of any advertisement targeted at specific consumers on the basis of behavioral data collected about them. If clicked on, the “i” will refer them to a webpage where the relevant data is on view.
Does this, then, herald a new era of transparency in the relations between advertisers and their quarry?
Well, not exactly. Fearing strict, mandatory regulation would be imposed from without, advertisers have preemptively supplied lighter, optional regulation from within. Big Brother, then, is very much still on the scene. You will keep on feeling, surfing the web, the prod of the too-apt ad. The only real difference is now, if you care to look, Big Brother will wink at you.
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