I'm beginning to think that context-aware advertising is too hard for companies to actually do, and may end up in the ash-heap of future technologies that never happen.
Facebook's future depends on serving up highly relevant ads, yet they can't even divine the fact that I speak English from the gigabyte of English words I have typed into Facebook over the years. How are they going to match my personal preferences to specific restaurants, clothing stores and more? And how will I understand their recommendation when they post it in Swahili?
I'm not afraid that Apple, Google and Facebook will know everything about me. I'm afraid they'll never know anything about me.
Concerns over data harvesting are legitimate. We need to keep our personal information from being used against us by hackers, criminals and unconstitutional law enforcement.
But most of the public thinking in the blogs and opinion columns misses the mark. The whole "they-know-everything-about-me" fear doesn't pass the test of reason or evidence.
I guess people imagine a small group of all-seeing, all-powerful conspiracy types watching and listening and monitoring, like a Black Ops control center in Bourne Identity: "I want everyone on all high alert, people. John Smith just bought a sandwich! Call Interpol! Now, people!"
In reality, your data is merely crunched in algorithms, along with a billion points of data per second from millions of other people, to be processed for the purposes of sending back ads or some other result. No human is watching. No human could possible keep up with it all.
It's a tree-in-the-forest philosophical question. If no human ever consciously sees your data, are you being "monitored"?
It's also true that without human reason on the other end of the data crunching, mobile data is absurdly easy to foil through misinformation. If you don't want any remote servers to know certain things about you, there are hundreds of tools available to search and function online but beyond the detection of anyone. If you want remote servers to be confused and ignorant, just send bad data. Search for things you don't care about. Interact with people you don't know. Loan your phone to a friend for the day -- the servers will think you're in all kinds of places you never went.
The more scammers, crackers, hackers, law enforcement, spy agencies, foreign industrial espionage hackers and others have in the way of data to harvest, the more they will rely on those methods to the exclusion of other methods. Any vaguely motivated person could easy mislead the data harvesters with bad or missing data.
Meanwhile, the techno-panic crowd seems genuinely fearful that they'll get personally relevant advertising.
Advertising is as inevitable as death and taxes. But only the spam version of advertising is as bad.
Spam is by definition unwanted, irrelevant advertising. Yet the data harvesting systems Silicon Valley is building promise a world where the advertising is so relevant that it's welcome, that it solve problems for us and shows us exactly what we really want when we want it. It's a world in which advertising pays for free services online that we really want to use, and that advertising is also something we really want.
So while we should all demand transparency from data harvesters, and safeguards against abuse, I'm looking forward to the promised world in which my personal data is harvested for advertising.
My only question is: What are they waiting for?