The only thing I hate more than Telemarketers, stupid people, and cowardice is Data-mining. Data-mining is the term given to the act of consumer categorization. Whenever you visit a web site, you are essentially being tracked. You are monitored by individuals or organizations via your IP address (given to you by your ISP), and put into specific categories depending on the types of sites you visit, duration of your visit, and frequency of your visits. Everything you do is catalogued, every purchase you make online is noted, the things you buy, the brands you prefer, even things you researched but did NOT buy are all catalogued. Even sites with nothing to sell are monitored! Supposedly, this is done to monitor "traffic on the net" and for billing the site maintainers, but the fact of the matter is, every visit to every site is logged and categorized. Companies like Akamai and Doubleclick (et al) make their money by collecting this data and selling it to "interested parties".
(Incidentally, my site has come up under searches for computers, video games, console copiers, occult, spirituality, television, bargains, porn, books, cuisine, and even sports! Imagine the profiles regular visitors to my site must have! (Hi Krstjan!))
Why are the companies doing this?
I should think the answer is obvious...
SO THEY KNOW WHAT THEY CAN SELL YOU!
If you've read my "Connected Appliances" article, you've already learned a bit about the logic and technique of data-mining (along with a not-so-farfetched possibility). It all starts with building your marketable profile, then assessing your interests, needs, and wants, then tailoring any and all advertising to conform to your profile. Why bombard a single, heterosexual man with tampon ads and coupons? Why mail a devoutly religious woman some content from a gay-porn site? Sending ads for a new BMW to a single welfare mom? Sending a lesbian couple pop-up ads for a penis extension or Viagra?
(Hey! That was unintentionally funny...pop-up ads for Viagra...har!)
It saves them time, money, and research, that's why! They don't have to rely on guesswork, they don't have to mass-mail adverts, coupons, and flyers to everyone, hoping that someone will "bite" so they might hit their target demographic. In the case of data-mining, their "target demographic" effectively and inadvertently hits itself.
It's not just the Internet being mined, it's everything. Every time you use your credit card, you're being mined. Everytime you use your bank card to withdraw money or pay for a purchase you're being mined. Every time you pay cash for an item but use a Club or Discount card YOU ARE BEING MINED!
Hell, you may even be mined when you use an ATM at a convenience store. If you withdraw money from the ATM at 7-Eleven, are you also buying gum, a Slurpee, an issue of Maxim? Did you buy gas at that Shell station when you withdrew $20 from their ATM?
Did you know you can be tracked by your cell-phone? Yup. Each cell-phone has a nice little feature called e911. Look on your cell-phone bill one of these days. There's probably a fee for e911 services on there, isn't there... e911 works on the same principle as regular old 911... if you phone 911 from your home phone, but are either disconnected or pass out before you reach an operator, the 911 Emergency operators can trace your call, find out where you are, etc. e911 works much the same way, but works in concert with GPS to pinpoint your exact whereabouts...
A friend of mine was visiting another Canadian city and had his cell-phone with him. While he and his companion were walking past a large retail store (I won't mention whom), he suddenly had a text message on his phone...it was a fucking ADVERTISEMENT from the damned store! Tell me THAT was a coincidence!
So, to recap, here's what they know and how they know it:
- Your surfing habits: Sites visited, category of site, duration of visit, frequency of visits.
- The products/services you buy, whether in stores or online, how often you buy them, how much you buy.
- How often you pay for purchases/services by credit card, debit card, or cash.
- How often you access ATMs, and WHERE you access them.
- If you own a cell-phone and where you are at any given moment.
- Where you shop, eat, and hang out.
Pretty scary, eh?
Personally, I find all this appalling. To me, it's tantamount to Industrial Espionage, and should be treated as a crime. But, since that'll probably never happen, here is my solution to the whole thing. I call it:
CJ vs Mass-Marketing!
(Steps you should follow to ensure your privacy)
- Pay bills in person, with cash.
- Don't use cell-phones. Use a regular phone and buy an answering machine. Don't use your name or phone number in the message. Use a pay phone if you're away from home.
- Pay for your purchases in CASH, and never give your real name/address unless absolutely necessary (some businesses will NOT accept cash for services... that's one strike against us!)
- Don't use those damned "store club" or discount cards. Stay away from Costco or Sam's Club altogether.
- Withdraw money ONLY from your home branch, and only deposit money or cash cheques via a HUMAN TELLER at your home branch.
OK, so my solutions aren't "real-world" practical. No, they're more "common sense" oriented, and common sense, as we all know, has no place in the "real world" ;)
Seriously, though, I'm being a bit sarcastic. The Internet is a great place, and a great way to communicate, shop, and have fun. It's just annoying to me that the categorization of us consumers has become an Internet fact of life, and there ain't much we can do about it.
Well, there ARE a few things one can do, but that's not my field of expertise. For a good primer on online privacy and anonymity, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They specialize in online issues such as privacy, security, freedom of speech, etc. Check 'em out, and if you like what you see, please consider donating!