I received a news alert from The Wall Street Journal this morning that caused me pause titled “On the Web’s Cutting Edge, Anonymity in Name Only.”
The article discusses a Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy that has found that the analytical skill of data handling companies is transforming the Internet into a place where people are becoming anonymous in name only. The findings offer an early glimpse of a new, personalized Internet where sites have the ability to adjust many things—look, content, prices—based on the kind of person they think you are.
Firms like [x+1] Inc. tap into vast databases of people’s online behavior—mainly gathered surreptitiously by tracking technologies that have become ubiquitous on websites across the Internet. They don’t have people’s names, but cross-reference that data with records of home ownership, family income, marital status and favorite restaurants, among other things. Then, using statistical analysis, they start to make assumptions about the proclivities of individual Web surfers.
A local Richmond, VA firm – Capital One – is mentioned in the article as a user of this technology, and while I love many things about the idea of making my online experience better, doing so without my permission is unacceptable behavior (as I would tell my kids). The world of neuromarketing is fascinating and not too far away from mainstream – a great book on the topic is Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain by Patrick Renvoise & Christophe Morin – but it still offers me choice. If someone is peaking in to my online activities without me agreeing to let them do so, do I really have a choice. I think not – what do you think.