Whether you are opposed to it for privacy reasons or thrilled to have brands serve only the advertising that is relevant to you, pretty much everyone online by now should be aware of online tracking. While I can be a bit of a privacy fusspot–an anachronism among my digital friends, I keep my Facebook page settings to as high a privacy setting as possible–even I understand and acknowledge there is some benefit.
But as news of Facebook’s tracking practices continues to be a topic, I started to think about my computer use. And how utterly, horribly wrong it would be for advertisers to think they can glean anything from my web movements; at least in the aggregate. I’m online for the better part of my waking hours. I log in to CustomScoop at around 6 a.m. to review content and generate a client report. That surfing isn’t relevant to me and my purchasing decisions. Ditto for most of the rest of the day–but yes, I’ll take breaks and read Jezebel (hey, good Roundtable fodder there) and a handful of other blogs that are purely personal interest. But for roughly nine hours, my web activity isn’t contributing a thing to making sound decisions on how to market to me. In the evening, it’s a bit different, as some of my time online is spent on personal stuff. But if we look at the total number of hours I spend online, clicking through to websites, the ratio is heavily tipped toward work content, not personal surfing. So what, exactly, would Facebook learn from following my activity online? Certainly nothing that would be of use to marketers.
Same holds true for Google tracking. Google has suggested that it can detect flu outbreaks through searches made for phrases like “flu symptoms.” For someone who has always had a keen (and rather random) interest in diseases, this is a slightly unnerving concept. While I doubt that there will be a prediction of a malarial outbreak in New Hampshire due to my Google searches, I can only hope that the threshold for the population required to determine an acceptable sample data set is quite high. I Google all kinds of random phrases, again, many work-related, and many personal.
While I know there are many employers out there who block social networks and blogs, there are many who don’t. And it makes me wonder how good this tracking data really is, if it’s collecting work and personal web history into one big batch.
I know Facebook’s practices are making some very uneasy, in particular the collection of tracking data after one is logged off from Facebook. Others don’t trust an all-knowing Google; they not only track your searches but have your email, and your documents. But my question goes back to Chip’s recent post about Big Data. This is a TON of information that is being collected, but really until it is decided what to do with it, it’s just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s.
I suppose I’ll find out if and when I start getting served ads for rock-bottom prices on quinine.