Privacy and Security TidBits

Behavioral Advertising is for Compumers

I saw the movie “Inception” by Christopher Nolan last night. It is not a movie I would usually pick, since I am not particularly fond of science fiction. But my daughter insisted: “You MUST see this movie. You won’t regret it.” I caved in and indeed enjoyed watching that movie. In the movie, technology has advanced to the point where certain highly skilled people are able to enter the human mind through dream invasion and plant seeds for new ideas. The story is sophisticated and emotionally engaging, the actors give excellent performances, and the ending is, well, unexpected.

Marketers using the behavioral advertising technique would have never recommended that movie to me.

Behavioral Advertising is a technique used by internet marketers to target consumers, based exclusively on their past online behavior: Past choices, past preferences, past browsing and search history. Companies will tell you what to purchase, based on your past online behavior.

Amazon’s and Netflix’s recommendations are based on the customer’s past purchases. I recently bought a Garmin nüvi 255W 4.3 inch Portable GPS Navigator on Amazon. Within the hour, I received an email from Amazon, suggesting I might also be interested in the Garmin nüvi 37907 4.3 inch Portable GPS Navigator . Sure, Amazon, thanks! I was just thinking of starting a Garmin nüvi GPS Navigator collection…

Facebook also recommends friends based on people who already are your friends. LinkedIn recommends “People You May Know”, based on your previous connections.

Proponents of behavioral advertising claim that the loss of privacy experienced by  consumers as a result of the creation of individual profiles for the purpose of behavioral targeting is offset by the benefit consumers gain from getting  advertisements that are custom tailored to their peferences and interests.

I beg to differ.

No machine on earth would have recommended I see “Inception”, because none of my past choices pointed in that direction.

But, I am not a “compumer“. I am not a “computer-consumer”. I am a human being, capable of imagination and dreams, programmed for evolution and change.

I am afraid that if we let machines make all our consumption suggestions, we will become frozen in our status quo, defined and limited by our past inputs, in other words, we might welll turn into computers, or “compumers” ourselves.

We will keep watching the same type of movies we have watched in the past, we will keep reading the same type of books we have read in the past, we will keep eating the same type of food we have eaten in the past, we will keep friending the same type of friends we have friended in the past, and we will keep connecting with the same type of professionals we have connected with in the past.

We will be locked into a  class, as determined by data mining companies and online data aggregators.

What will become of that quintessential American idea of being able to “re-invent” ourselves, when our past becomes less than satisfactory? What will become of the desire to expand  horizons, of the allure of unchartered territories, of the drive for social mobility, of the basic human need for change and progress?

But then, maybe one day technology will have progressed to the point where marketers themselves will be able to plant the seeds for all of the above mentioned ideas into our brains through “Inception”!

Update: 11/03/2010

Well, “Inception” in real life has apparently started already! see: