You’ve read the headlines. You’ve heard the panicking pundits. Google, Facebook and many other companies are harvesting as much data about you as they can get. They’re dropping cookies on your PC and “tracking” you as you surf the web.
All these companies are desperate to “violate your privacy” and monitor, track, record, eavesdrop and spy on you, and no amount of personal data is enough. They always want more.
At least that’s what we’re told.
The problem with this view is that it’s based on faulty assumptions and fuzzy logic.
Here’s what’s really going on.
Nearly all the business growth in the marketing racket these days is not marketing, but something called remarketing. It’s also called personalized retargeting, behavioral retargeting or search retargeting.
All this is just marketing jargon for the attempt to influence your future behavior based on your past behavior.
Let me give you a simple example.
Let’s say you search Google for a home espresso machine. Google returns an online catalog that sells such high-end coffee stuff, and you click on the link. You find a model you like, so you add it to your cart. But when you get to the buying process, you discover that shipping costs $30. You think that maybe Amazon will ship for free, or that you’ll find a better deal somewhere else. So you click out of the site without making the transaction.
From your perspective, you were window shopping and didn’t make a purchase. From the coffee catalog’s perspective, you were marketed to. Their Search Engine Marketing (SEO) efforts got you to visit the site and engage with products.
You’re done with them. But they’re not done with you. Now it’s time for them to remarket to you.
You notice that as you visit blogs and other sites, you’re suddenly seeing big ads for espresso machines. It feels like that coffee catalog is “following” you or “tracking” you.
In reality, no human being knows which ads you, specifically, are seeing -- nor do they care. A cookie has been dropped on your PC to identify you to ad servers as someone interested in buying an espresso machine, and so ads are attempting to achieve “relevance.”
And they’re probably succeeding. Instead of pitching espresso machines, which you in fact are actively in the market for, they would otherwise be offering you wrinkle cream, even though you’re 26, or cat food, even though you don’t have a cat.
Remarketing generally benefits most users, who simply get more relevant advertising rather than less relevant.
Companies like Google, Facebook, and for that matter, Amazon.com, Apple and many other companies, can do a much better job of marketing to you with more data.
The coffee catalog treated you like a one-dimensional creature -- a wallet in search of a coffee machine.
As a person, you’re pretty blurry to them.
But with a lot more data, intelligently processed with tomorrow’s advanced algorithms, you’ll be visible to advertising servers in blazing HD. They’ll know more about what you want than you will.
When you searched Google for an espresso machine, for example, Google can combine that information with your zip code, gender, education level and other information as entered on your Google+ profile -- along with hundreds of other signals from search, Google+, YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Play, Google Calendar and more -- to know everything about you.