Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Intrusiveness of Data Mining Online

By: Richard Linning 

Microsoft is taking another swipe at Gmail with a campaign to encourage people to dump Gmail for Outlook (http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-microsoft-privacy-campaign-against-google-gmail-20130206,0,6815888.story). So what? It is just another shuffle of the deck of marked cards from the “How to Make Money from the Web” game book.  The real news is that 7 out of 10 Americans say they don't believe or didn't know that any major email service provider scans the content of personal emails in order to better target ads.  In fact all digital traffic receives the same treatment.  It is called data mining. And yes, the public relations industry benefits too: SEO or search engine optimization makes it possible to better target PR clients’ messages.  Not to the stakeholders, but to a stakeholder. Is this the global picture, I expect so.  
Our every online transaction – from our social media presence, to our searches to our buying habits – is already subject to the once over from some algorithm. There’s no such thing as a free lunch on the web.  Now, the government in the UK has announced it is getting in on the act too with Deep Packet Inspection. With its black box technology, British spy agencies want to log data from all digital communications, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype calls with family members, and yes, even visits to pornographic websites (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2274388/MI5-install-black-box-spy-devices-monitor-UK-internet-traffic.html#ixzz2KEPL2nOp). Today the UK, tomorrow it is where you live, if it isn’t already happening.  The really comforting thing is that (as Google puts it), “No humans read your email or Google account information in order to show you advertisements or related information."  The free stuff has to be paid for somehow and the somehow is targeted advertising, marketing, and public relations. 
As communicators the public relations role is being taken over by geeks.  Now, as customers, we have targeted pricing.  Look at this way, you enter a store, the salesman or woman sums you up (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman here) and decides what you can afford – or not afford – to pay. Personal-identification-storage technology is doing the same thing online. It means goods are being priced according to you, the customer.  Once it was the inventory that drove price. For example, the guy or gal on the flight next to you probably didn’t pay the same price for his/her seat because price was designed to shift capacity risk (to you and me, empty seats).  Dynamic pricing programs have taken over from the shop floor in targeting you, the customer according to what you can pay.  We all know what is next. Tracking online behavior variables will help determine our future buying intentions.  Hang on, that’s already happening, but I guess like 7 out of 10 Americans and data mining you didn’t know that. But that’s for another CGPR posting. 


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