They’ll know that what people like you really want is a new German fully-automated gadget you’ve never heard of that grinds the beans, foams the milk and delivers your latte. And they’ll offer it to you.
The thing you need to know is that both these capabilities -- the ability to gain details about you and the ability to crunch that data to serve up relevant data -- are all improving constantly, just like the performance of microprocessors or the number of megapixels in camera phones.
And a third capability is getting better as well -- the ability for algorithms to learn from your behavior. On the rare instance that you actually click through an ad, the ad servers will pay very close attention to what kind of ad that was so it can give you more of the same.
Project these growing capabilities into the future and it’s not hard to imagine a world where advertising is more compelling, addictive, distracting and even enjoyable than gaming, social networking or anything else you do online while you’re supposed to be working.
For example, if you look closely at Pinterest, the social network that’s growing like a weed, you’ll notice that it’s mostly fluff -- it’s a lot of products and services and Internet memes shuffled and displayed according to social signals and user choices.
Nobody’s discussing philosophy on Pinterest or debating the Russian election. They’re looking at shoes and saying: “Ooooh, I want those!” It’s a marketer’s dream.
The future of advertising will feel a lot like Pinterest -- fun, addictive and engaging.
As users click around online, Google will know not only about the products and services you know you like, but also the ones you don’t yet know you will like. Their algorithms will profile you. And they’ll dangle all kinds of eye candy in front of you based on a deep understanding of who you are and what you want.
And by “understanding,” I don’t mean actual human understanding, but automated algorithm output that achieves the objective of getting you to click and buy.
Intelligent agents like Apple’s Siri and Google’s upcoming Assistant will take the initiative: “Excuse me, but you might want to check out this espresso machine that just went on sale for half price, and which matches your kitchen decor.”
Everyone’s suspicious of the motives of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple in harvesting your personal data and online behavior.
But that’s the wrong thing to worry about. Their shared motive is to give you exactly what you want in the form of advertising as an alternative to giving you ads you don’t want.
We shouldn’t worry about the industry’s plans. We should worry about what happens when things don’t go according to plan.
The risk with deep personal data gathering is when that data is used for purposes other than marketing and advertising.
For example, it’s hypothetically possible for some unscrupulous data harvester to sell your personal information to your insurance company, which could theoretically raise your rates or drop your coverage because it learns from your online behavior that you have a medical condition.
It’s not inconceivable that law enforcement, domestic spy agencies, foreign spy agencies others might somehow use aggregated data for their purposes, rather than yours.
And, of course, all that rich data would be very useful to identity thieves.
These hypotheticals are scary. But you’ll note that they’re not directly related to the issues that everybody seems to be panicking about.
To recap, major companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are constantly getting better at:
1. Collecting personal and behavioral data about you.
2. Using algorithms to “profile” you and figure out what you want.
3. Learning from your interaction with marketing content to figure out how to push your buttons and get you to buy.
You’ll note that items 2 and 3 actually provide a benefit to you: relevant, rather than irrelevant advertising.
And item 1 is only a threat if security is breached and data leaked.
The bigger threat is when spammers, gangsters, criminals, ID thieves, nefarious hacker types and others utilize similar techniques to do us harm.
So let’s be clear that we shouldn’t fear privacy invasion, but regular invasion. It’s a security threat, not a privacy threat.
I think we should welcome the end of spam and irrelevant advertising. And I think the benefits of automated, all-knowing agents that help us navigate through a complex world outweigh the costs.
We shouldn’t panic about the future of remarketing. But by all means, let’s demand of all Internet companies user control, transparency and -- above all -- security.
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