Thursday, May 1, 2008

Personalization Gets Increasingly Sophisticated

Personalization is actually a great idea but it should be done in a way that doesn't require detailed data collection [about an individual].

-Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center

Rotenberg's quote stands in somber counterpoint in this article to the increasingly sophisticated activities that it shows marketers developing to predict people's behaviors in the digital media sphere. For example, "Microsoft recently filed a patent application that would use offline data such as credit-card transactions, estimated physical location (from cell-phone towers), and TV viewing habits to serve you a customized ad the next time you go online." And ComScore uses "'biometric signature' profiling to match the keystrokes and mouse-click patterns of different users on a single computer. The idea here is to get beyond the gadget to the individual user who touches it." Some of these data can be linked to cookies that are disassociated from people's names, so marketers can argue that they don't know specific names and addresses of individuals and are therefore not intruding on their personal privacy. But names, addresses and other so-called personal information increasingly are no longer necessary for marketers (and governments) to discover the kinds of information that have led people not to want to give out their private data. Without accessing personally identifiable information, marketers can still create highly specific profiles that allow them to discriminate against certain people--selectively providing them with ads, discounts, entertainment and news based on labels that the people don't know are used to categorize them and with which they might not agree.

In Ben Kunz, "The Real Threat to Google," BusinessWeek, April 29, 2008.

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