Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Loss of Privacy

The other day, a great friend of mine who sells real estate in Tyler asked me how Facebook makes money as well as questioned their value. It's a great question as most people don't understand just how valuable they are individually when it comes to their habits, tastes, gender and all the other data that they have so effortlessly entered into a company they know very little about. Or more importantly, what these companies are doing with this information.

Most if not all of you have opened an account with Google, Facebook or some other on-line service. In doing so, you are asked to approve of their terms and conditions and all of us simply accept this agreement without reading any of it. However, if you had taken the time to review the document you so lackadaisically approved of, you would have read that you now have relinquished any and all of your rights to privacy by giving your information to the company that's taking it.

So what does this mean about the value of Facebook and how can they use this information once they have it tucked away so nice and neat within their database? This is the topic of Joseph Turow's new book entitled The Daily You which takes a hard look at how the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your worth.

Within the book, Mr. Turow explains how the internet is often hyped as a means to enhanced consumer power: a hypercustomized media world where individuals exercise unprecedented control over what they see and do. That is the scenario media guru Nicholas Negroponte predicted in the 1990s, with his hypothetical online newspaper The Daily Me—and it is one we experience now in daily ways. But, as media expert Joseph Turow shows, the customized media environment we inhabit today reflects diminished consumer power. Not only ads and discounts but even news and entertainment are being customized by newly powerful media agencies on the basis of data we don’t know they are collecting and individualized profiles we don’t know we have. Little is known about this new industry: how is this data being collected and analyzed? And how are our profiles created and used? How do you know if you have been identified as a “target” or “waste” or placed in one of the industry’s finer-grained marketing niches? Are you, for example, a Socially Liberal Organic Eater, a Diabetic Individual in the Household, or Single City Struggler? And, if so, how does that affect what you see and do online?

Now that's a whole lot of information so let me dress that down for you. By the way, I pulled that off of Amazon's overview so I can't claim to have written it but I didn't see a need in rewriting it either. But what it essentially means is that corporations can and are buying your information for digital stealth marketing. The Obama administration, for example, is one of the most progressive on-line marketers in political history to date. They are taking it, buying it and will do whatever they want with it in massive efforts to market themselves within all digital platforms. It may be the biggest digital marketing effort I've ever seen by any single one organization backed by what's expected to exceed one billion dollars in funding.

Still lost on all of this? Let's say you're interested in golf and you have a Google account. Every time you search for golfing topics or products, Google tracks it and files it within their data base. This information is stored and combed through for potential targeting. If I'm a company and I sell golf clubs, I can purchase this information and have Google target you specifically by generating dynamic digital banner ads where you might like to spend time. For instance, Youtube was purchased by Google so every video you watch is tracked and stored for future marketing efforts. Watching videos to work on your golf swing and bam I've got you. Notice if you search for certain things within this application that the banner ads that show up tie into your interests. The same goes for Facebook as all ads on your page are specific to your tastes and preferences.

Turning the pages through this first chapter of our digital history that we all seem to be clicking through is a cautious tale. It is one that we should approach with thoughtfulness and take heed if we enjoy our anonymity. Remember, you and your interests are worth a great deal.

Especially to guys like me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy President's Day - by Jennifer Holt

It is late Sunday afternoon.  I unearth a piece of paper from a stack of bills.  President’s Day is on Wednesday, and my second grader has been assigned a project about the president Zachary Taylor.  I quickly skim over the project requirements. “Great,” I think,” a poster.  I can hand this one off to my husband.”

When it comes to homework, my husband and I have well-defined lines of responsibility.  Last week, my fifth grader thought it would be funny to ask my husband for some help with his math homework.   Normally, I help with all homework assignments that do not require artistic inspiration, but my husband could see that I was preoccupied helping our seventeen year-old with a government assignment.  I was in the middle of a rant concerning the terms “deficit spending” and “public debt” so he wisely decided to attempt the math on his own.  After ten minutes spent staring at the equation involving the addition and subtraction of fractions with different denominators, he caved and called me over with a concerned and puzzled look on his face.  As he began to express his confusion over the problem, I turned to glare at my fifth grader, who was struggling to keep a straight face.  We had just gone over the process for this type of equation and I knew that my son had it down pat.  Being the deviant and twisted child that he is, he just wanted to see my husband sweat.  I sighed in exasperation and returned to the Powers of Congress.

Projects, however, are my husband’s special area of expertise. Nothing makes Edwin more proud than watching one of the boys walk into school with a big smile as classmates and teachers “ooh” and “ah” over his (Edwin’s) latest masterpiece.  One year he built a model of a pioneer cabin complete with a shingled roof and stone chimney.  He claimed that if he had started sooner, he could have made the chimney produce smoke.  I didn’t doubt it.  On another occasion, he recreated a miniature model of Niagara Falls with a battery-operated pump that circulated water.  I knew he could handle the President’s Project.

I glance over the supplies needed for the project and begin gathering the materials for them.  I effortlessly produce some poster board, colored pencils, and a picture book about presidents.  “Easy peas-y,” I think.  Then I get to the last sentence on the project description, the dreaded words for mothers world-over.  “On President’s Day your child will come dressed up as their president.”  It adds (with an exclamation point), “This will be a fun way to learn about our presidents!”  “Oh, no,” I moan to my husband, “he has to dress up.”

As I make a mental checklist of our costume inventory, I recall that Mac once dressed up as George Washington.  My mother-in-law made the costume, and naturally it was a work of art.  I don’t exactly know when Zachary Taylor was president, but I’m thinking that presidential attire from any era works. “What sort of demonic person thinks that dressing up like a president is fun?” my husband asks.   “The project should just say, ‘Intended to create more work for parents.’  We should just send him to school dressed like a pirate.  What are they going to do, give him an F?”  And then he completes his tirade with, “I’m President Zachary Taylor, yo.  Walk the plank.”

 I shake my head and send Solon to the computer to look for information.  He enters the president’s name into the Internet search engine, and I hear my husband mutter under his breath in a pseudo-announcer voice, “Zachary Taylor, Porn Star.”  I roll my eyes.  My son prints out a picture of his president, and after the much exhausting process of pressing the print icon on the computer, he sighs and asks, “Can I take a break now?”  I grab a box of Milk Duds and say, “Yo matey, be my guest.”