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IN PERSPECTIVE - Personalized Creepiness

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 8:30pm
Brian Santo, Editor-in-Chief

Somewhere along the continuum, there’s a line.

One of the benefits that derive from the ability to meter and measure network traffic is personalization. People will appreciate the opportunity to see what their usage patterns are so they can decide what package of bandwidth allowances, latency guarantees, services and applications best suit them – especially if it saves them money.

Brian SantoPersonalization starts with recommendation engines for TV shows, but somewhere along the continuum, there’s a line.

The Wall Street Journal is running a series of articles on behavioral marketing – how various companies track individuals’ activity on the Web. On a radio show*, the reporter, Julia Angwin, described how, during an online shopping session, she put a pair of shoes in her virtual basket. “Those particular shoes actually followed me around on every website I went to for a month,” she said, appearing in ads, over and over and over, until she actually bought them.

The shoe thing was considered relatively innocuous. But now imagine if what the subscriber was searching for wasn’t shoes, but medical information on, say, bipolar disorders.

For some of us, the shoes are plenty creepy enough. Part of it is that it’s all based on information you gave no personal consent to have used for you (or against you). But sometimes, even when you have legally given consent to use your data, it can be creepy.

A blog entry from an ex-Time Warner Cable subscriber named Dan is a case in point.** Titled “Time Warner is a Stalky Bastard,” it’s about how TWC used the writer’s name far too awkwardly, for instance when TWC addressed him companionably as Daniel M. – “As all close friends do to one another. It’s totally like a paper human!” Ouch.

Just because technology enables you to do something, that doesn’t mean you have to do it. And if you do decide to do it, run it by someone you’re confident has a little common sense.

*http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=129298003

**http://www.imdb.com/news/ni3886816/

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