I think I am turning into a dinosaur, because lately I’ve been extremely concerned about my privacy. Not that I ever truly had any. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion obliterated any privacy I thought I had when I turned 18 (or maybe it was when my mom put me on her store credit card, or when I got an SSN, I don’t know any more). But for a while, it was possible to actually make sure that only people/companies that I wanted to check my credit score actually did.

Here in New York, people lament the lack of public space. It is ironic, then, that what we used to think of as private spaces are increasingly considered, by the advertising agencies, to actually be public, in the sense that they can get in edgewise and pester our brain with “You need this! You want this!”

Allow me to explain. This article in The New York Times today troubled me. The article explains what’s up next in the realm of targeted advertising – cable companies accessing your financial data from the credit monitoring companies and sending financially-targeted advertising your way during commercials.

As an example, the article states that while I’m watching a documentary on why the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 (something I would watch, actually), I might receive a commercial for a Chevrolet, based on my income and the value of my house. But someone living a few blocks away would get an advertisement for a Cadillac Escalade during the same commercial break, because they make three times what I earn, and they own a million dollar brownstone.

People in my generation who use Facebook and Gmail are getting more used to targeted advertising. They feel like they either ignore it or actually enjoy getting ads that are “more relevant” to them than others. But, when does targeted advertising go too far? Is it okay that Gmail has a program to scan the content of your emails so that when you get an email from your friend in Ecuador, it sends you ads for hotels in Ecuador? What about if you get an ad on TV that mentions donating to a senator (because you donated to Obama) and then an ad for a special organic dog food made in Brooklyn (because the ASPCA in Brooklyn checked your credit when you adopted Fido, and because you’re an investor in lots of organic product companies) and then an ad for a house around the corner because you went to an open house around the corner and they checked your credit score?

See, it gets more creepy. Or at least, that’s what I think. But more than the television advertising (I don’t watch tv, fyi), I worry that the same software or scanning mechanisms that these companies use to check out your background and sell you ads could potentially be used to give you targeted information. Targeted news.

Example: The New York Times notices that I always read articles about new tech companies trying new targeted advertising programs. One day, the front page of the nytimes.com has as its lead story some inane article about another Silicon Valley guy who wants to start an iPhone app to tell your friends what you bought at the supermarket. An article that would not be the lead article of the Times (I hope!)

Meanwhile, my roommate, who always reads articles about medical discoveries, has a front page only showing articles about medical discoveries, while my girlfriend who always reads articles about the art world, has a front page that’s all about the art world.

Sounds ok? Ok. Well what if it took you 45 minutes to search through the website to find out what’s going on in the banking sector or with Iceland’s currency because it’s low on the list of what The New York Times thinks you want to read? It’s buried? Or what if, like that Cadillac Escalade commercial, you don’t get that news at all?

You catch my drift – there exists now the ability to target the information we get. Are they doing it yet? In China they are.

And, like the cable companies, it seems it’s not considered a priority for businesses to let us know when they’re “rolling out” a new program such as this one. And this worries me. It’s already very hard to tell if you’re getting the full news picture (after 8 years of Bush, I find more of my friends don’t trust the Times, and get a lot of their news from the BBC and Al Jazeera).

Now that I think of it, I don’t consider myself a dinosaur. I do consider myself an advocate of much, much more consumer privacy.

I do consider myself a little paranoid, but I believe that vigilance is needed now more than ever.

I do consider myself an advocate of free information flow, unimpeded by business concerns.

Let me see the commercial and decide if I want to purchase Snuggle fabric softener. The fact that I don’t have a baby doesn’t mean I don’t want my blankets and towels to be snuggly-soft.

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