IF YOU’RE a cyber citizen, there is a high probability of your every single move online being monitored and tracked — and perhaps monetized — by someone without you knowing.
It is not as if all of this tracking is being done surreptitiously. You are actually providing much of the information voluntarily through your activities on social networking sites such as Facebook, professional networks, blogs, and through subjects you search for, websites you visit, books and DVDs you buy, or the ads you click on.
Your EVERY Click Counts!
Practically every click of yours while you’re online is converted into a data point or a ‘click signal’. This could range from you clicking on the ‘Like’ button on Facebook to the key words you search for on Google! All these bits of information are being converted into usable ‘profiles’ of millions of people by massive, intelligent servers that use some of the most sophisticated pieces of software. These ‘profiles’ are then sold to marketers so that they can target products and services which are specific to you. Welcome to the era of personalization.
The contextual ads that appear on the margins of your Inbox or news feeds on top of your Gmail page are old hat.
Personalization to the NEXT Level
Google went a step ahead in December 2009 when it quietly made search personalized according to your profile. Top results and number of results could vary from person to person, location to location.
One website may look different for different people, while in some cases even content could be different. Websites such as Amazon began personalization early on, using the type of books one searched for.
Now, personalization has gone beyond what you buy on the internet. It has begun shaping the entire information flow on the Net, warns online campaigner Eli Pariser in his latest book. It’s not just about buys, but about moulding perceptions and behaviours. Information that reaches you is carefully filtered so that you get only “what you want” (as decided by some intelligent algorithm). The filters look the things you seem to like, things you have done and are likely to do, or the things people like you may like — and try to extrapolate.
Facebook wants you to share more and more just to create more sophisticated filters. In effect, each of us is living in ‘filter bubble’ or an information universe of our own.
Web Marketers making a Killing
The way personalisation works to the advantage of marketers, as detailed by Pariser, is shocking. Suppose you search for a cheap Delhi- New York- Delhi flight on Travelocity or Kayak. Irrespective of whether you buy this ticket or not, the website sells this tiny piece of information to a data company like Acxiom or Blue- Kai, which then auctions it off to the highest bidding air-line, say United. Once United knows that you are interested in a Delhi- New York- Delhi ticket, it can show you relevant ads of flights not just on the travel website you started with, but on almost every website you visit. The entire process — from the collection of your data to the sale to United — takes less than a second!
The dangers of personalising news through websites such as News. me that cater their headlines to our particular interests — are even greater. Someone else is deciding what’s important to you, whether it is news about war Afghanistan or the latest launch from Apple. Personalisation, in fact, is killing the very spirit of internet — free and open exchange of ideas and experiences. The author says that while the Internet proliferated with the potential to decentralise knowledge in a democratic way, practice “it is concentrating control over what we see and what opportunities we are offered in the hands of fewer people than ever before.” This is the real danger.
Article Credits: Mail Today