Thursday, September 17, 2009
Advertising: It's Everywhere, It's Everywhere
The insidiousness of commercial communication is so rampant that we no longer notice it, and we no longer think about its intrusion into our daily lives. Whether it’s supermarkets tracking our purchases as we swipe our cards, or the innocuous selling of magazine subscription data to marketers, consumers do not see the process of selling data—there is no transparency—and so they don’t know to care. What has seemed innocuous has turned uglier in my opinion. Behavioral tracking or behavioral advertising as it is sometimes called allows a website to collect information about you and then sell it to potential advertisers. A good example was offered up by a student who said, after purchasing something from American Apparel, she noticed the next day that an ad for American Apparel showed up on her Facebook page. Any organization that collects data—in all possible forms—is in the position to sell that data to others. Data mining is big business for politicians and for marketers of products and services. For the consumer, the playing field has again become uneven. Consumers don’t stand a chance, because they aren’t even aware this is going on. At the beginning of September, ten consumer advocacy groups appealed to Congress to do something about this growing problem. Today, it was reported the FTC would take up the issue in a series of public discussions that will take place in December. What may come out of those discussions are answers to questions regarding our right to privacy. Why the discussions are limited to behavioral advertising on the web and do not extend to other database marketing tactics is beyond me. To the extent that people care about their privacy, this is a huge issue. But I’m not sure people even care that much; we live in such an over-exposed society. Awareness is a good first step, as you cannot respond to an issue unless you know it’s going on. Many people don't mind this at all; they don't perceive it to be an intrusion. For those consumers would prefer to keep their purchases to themselves, some guidelines and perhaps regulations by the FTC may be in order.