Saturday, March 03, 2012

An Unintended Profiled Life

By Gary Berg-Cross

In May of 2011 I wrote a blog called The Unfiltered Life about the idea of Filter Bubbles a phrase coined by internet activist Eli Pariser. Simply put Google’s technology guesses what you want and gives it to you. It can do this because Google knows things about us from our past use of Google services. It can thus adapt searches (and target ads) to reflect this knowledge. Google’s new privacy policy is in the news just now because it has integrated/consolidated 70 previous policies into one.
This allows data it knows about us to construct a coherent, behavioral profile of us. Some questioning whether their stated policy is at odds with their star wars inspired company motto - “Don’t be evil.”

I like it’s summary of altruistic intentions, but the creation of a behavioral profile has potential downsides. In a sense this reflects a reality that our “free” Google services has a hidden cost. We or our information is a product that Google and others is selling to advertizing. Gmail activity is one that is used but also our search patterns, conversations and chat on Google+ as well as the videos one watches on YouTube. There would be more I guess if you are an Android user. Google has already been sued by a privacy activist who has demanded that it should pay to replace his Android smartphone because he won’t consent to its new privacy policy.

I’ve no experience with creating a profile from such activity, but IT professionals have been working on this and a company like Google can leverage this. Their revenue comes from ads and behavorial ads are know to be effective. One recently cited example, is the case of Target who was able to identify that a teenager was pregnant. This was before her father and she had discussed it. Target knew more about his daughter than he did in that regard). Target (no pun on targeting intended) apparently has identified certain patterns in expecting mothers which they use to assign shoppers a “pregnancy prediction score.” And this is a worry with Google’s knowledge of us through patterns of use.

I’m note sure if this is a conscious grab for power and knowledge or just a continued slide down a slippery slope of we are just a business that wants to make a profit. It is another confrontation of business values and broader humanistic values and I fear that the culture is slipping sideways but downward.

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