Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Brother Reloaded

It's no longer just the government that know everything about me. Now Acxiom and others alike know. And I bet they have more accurate information then the first guys mentioned. Not that I feel any better knowing this.

In the recent years there has been a lot of steam and chatter around the privacy issue. I am talking about marketing and advertisement here, not body parts! Even though I still think that Americans should start ensuring consumers privacy in the restrooms. The ones they have now barely cover the intimate parts of the customer and encourage peeking through the loose walls.

Back on the real topic, the privacy watchdogs flipped out again some time ago when Acxiom announced their new Relevance-X “revolutionary online advertising network” that helps advertisers better target their audience based on cookies placed on customers’ computers, cookies that contain sensitive information instead of chocolate chips as the majority of users would expect. Acxiom said that the cookie is stuffed only with gender, zip code and cluster status info. Yeah!

But customer privacy has been an issue for some time now. About 7 years ago or so Amazon has been sent to the corner for discriminatory pricing based on customer profiling. The bad boy DoubleClick has been the protagonist of some complaints when they planed to link consumers' names and addresses with Internet surfing habits. Not to mention a sound slap on the Facebook when they launched a marketing program that let companies target messages based on what their friends buy and do online.

Even the GYM triangle Google, Yahoo and Microsoft got their share of boo’s until they removed key pieces of personal information about the search requests stored in the computers.

How Acxiom keeps up with my life? They routinely mine phone books, voter lists, property records, warranty cards and other data to profile and categorize about 130 million households across the US into 70 categories. I wonder what category I am part of. I hope for “sophisticate smart urban graduate & beautiful female future owner of a Mazda Miata” cluster.

Anyway, for those who want to take themselves more seriously here are some tips about how to keep personal information as personal as possible. My favorite: treat your laptop and phone computer like cash. Never leave them unsupervised or somebody may trade them for some booze. Or anything else your credit card can buy.

If this is not enough to get you paranoid think of this: where does your information go to every time you subscribe to a magazine, order a pizza, when you make a donation to charity, enter a sweepstakes contest, or give you phone number to a store cashier? Maybe you don’t really want to know… Reality beats the movie by far. And if you think, it used to be funny how Bruce Willis’ cab knew everything about him in The Fifth Element movie. I don’t feel like laughing now. Do you?

Orwell was right. Somebody’s always watching. Google might be indexing this page right now…

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