Privacy Matters


February 24, 2012 by jooshanoosh

Image from here.

I read an interesting article in Time Magazines Techland Blog. It turns out there was a man who complained to his local Target that his teenage daughter was receiving coupons in the mail about baby clothes and cribs. He couldn’t understand why they would be sending these mailings to a girl who was clearly not pregnant…except it turns out she was. And the kinda incredible thing is that Target knew she was pregnant before her parents knew.

Here is how they knew:

It was a fact Target had obtained after carefully collecting information about her. The company, like many others, assigns each shopper a unique Guest ID. Every time you buy toilet paper with a credit card, visit its website, fill out a survey or, really, interact with the retailer in any way, Target assigns this information to that ID.

In a nutshell, but tracking the way this girl had interacted with them, Target was able to predict (with great accuracy, apparently) that she was pregnant and started to send her the coupons and marketing designated for pregnant women. So is that creepy? Or amazing?

Privacy is kind of a big buzz word lately. Are we all silly to be giving away all of our information to these companies? Should we be worried that in a certain way advertisers may know more about us than our loved ones? Should we be terrified that every dumb photo and stupid comment that our kids make on Facebook during high school will be accessible in perpetuity by every hiring manager, college admissions board and future in-law? Or is it no biggie?

In a way, I am lucky that I grew up before the dawn of the digital age. I recall some pretty embarrassing photos of me taken in high school. And I don’t really want people to have instant access to my run as Oberon in my High School’s production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I know I thought I was the next Olivier, but I am pretty confident looking back on it that I sucked. As an adult, I am pretty lax with my own Internet privacy. I am mindful of who I friend on Facebook, and I don’t broadcast every detail of my life, but I enjoy putting information out there. I live a pretty boring life, so I don’t think I have too much to be afraid of, but I don’t carefully curate who gets to see what information. And truthfully, I think it is fun. I like posting what books I have read on Goodreads and letting my friends comment on them. I just returned from a family vacation where I was uploading pictures throughout the day and I would have a lot of fun each night coming home and reading comments that friends had written on them.

But maybe that is naive. Maybe there is a potential for harm to come from all of the information we post online. Cultural paranoia tells us that we need to safeguard our information because we could be endangering ourselves, as illustrated in the creepy Facebook lollipop video. (Be warned: it is pretty messed up. Don’t watch if you are easily frightened.)  But truthfully, I am less worried that my Facebook updates will lead to some crazy person coming to kill me and more worried that when my neighbors dog goes missing I will be the prime suspect because of my well publicized hatred of the canine.

So where do you stand in the world of online privacy? Do you think we are living in a new age where eventually everyone will have an Internet history of embarrassing photos and stupid comments so we just won’t care anymore? Or do you think we need to be mindful custodians of what we choose to share and who we choose to share it with? Or do you just publish everything on MySpace so you are sure that it is safe from prying eyes?

At least now we know that if your teenage daughter starts receiving coupons in the mail for diapers, you may need to set aside some quality time to chat.

3 thoughts on “Privacy Matters

  1. Patrick says:

    I'm pretty sure we are both banking on a boring enough life that no one will really care…butcept that guy who was totally looking at all my pictures and stuff on face book. But I'm not that worried, I could see him watching me and I could see where he lived, and I got real close to the screen and studied him and I was all creepy, then I got in my truck and drove to his house after printing out a picture of him and taping it to my dash board. Turns out it was just a misunderstanding and he thought I was Neil Patrick Harris, which I do get a lot.

  2. topher clark says:

    I get so many coupons and adverts for condoms

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