Do Not Track me, unless I want you to.

[ image courtesy of Andrew Møøre / Flickr ]

In the past few years we have seen some contradictory events in the realm of privacy and information sharing. Even more events have happened in the past week that add to this odd timeline.

There was the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal of recent years.

In 2003 our national lawmakers saw fit to enact the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act — the act that enables each of us to place our phone numbers on a do-not-call registry to avoid unwanted telemarketer intrusions. This has been in the news again as lawmakers are looking to make the Act permanent, as it had a sunset period of 5 years.

The Washington Post reports on that a Do-Not-Track proposal is in the works. This would give consumers an opt-out provision to avoid the activities resulting from tracked data, including but not limited to better refined searches and more refined advert serving.

There seems to be a disconnect here — and a bit of dis-ingenuity as well. There is a clear difference between getting a phone call during dinner, and being served an ad [which would be there no matter what] that is selected for you based on your surfing habits.

As Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, points out in the WaPo article “In some respects improving the efficiency of advertising could be a consumer-friendly activity… If it’s not abuse, if it’s not coercive, matching consumers with products could be a good thing.”

This is all happening in an interesting new behavioral marketing arena. The Telegraph reports mobile phone companies have a similar and perhaps more intrusive way of doing this. The technology now exists for the mobile service providers to monitor text messages and calls, and serve ads to those users based on keywords texted or uttered. These ads, in some cases, will give fiscal consideration to those using the service in the form of mobile bill credits.

Will users be concerned? It depends. In a discussion I had yesterday, folks of varying age [30-50+] were hashing this over and all arrived at the same conclusion — they are not comfortable or interested in letting that much ‘out of the bag.’

However, the users of Facebook and MySpace have grown accustomed to the notion of providing copious amounts of personal data to the world. For a certain age set, providing personal photos, videos, and data is part of the fun. Having companies use that data to more efficiently sell those people things will seem like part of the deal as well.
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