Facebook has decided to guess what you want to buy…

Fantastic news for everyone!  Facebook has outright declared that their new advertising system will not only offer you things you want, but will also offer you things that they think you MIGHT want in the future based on the contents of your profile.  HOLY CATFISH IN A CAN.  Here we have a website that is growing in popularity at a staggering rate and rather then hide behind vague rhetoric like Google and other ad servers, they come right out and say it: we are taking the info you give us and analyzing it, analyzing you, analyzing your friends, your life, your likes and dislikes.

Forget that the end result is serving you advertisements (that’s its own issue), but it takes a mighty large pair to overtly state, “We’re taking the info you give us and using it the way we see fit.  Deal with it.”  Not to be all “tinfoil hat” about this new system of user-analysis, but this is a very slippery slope.  I don’t know what I find more interesting; the fact that Facebook comes right out and says what they’re doing, or the fact that scores of users will not care in the slightest.  Below is the text of a blog post I wrote in March of 2006 on a now inactive Blogspot blog.  Substitute “Facebook” everywhere you see “Google” and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

_________________________

A profound sense of irony hit me today when my older brother told me he was impressed so far with Google’s entry in to financial news. I have been and continue to be a big fan of Google, but not without a bit of protected skepticism. My brother, on the other hand, has long called the whole ad-powered, content driven web phenomenon (of which Google is the unquestioned leader) a “house of cards.” He sent me a note about their new financial site and said that it was beginning to look like the model Google is working with might indeed survive the long term. He opined that indeed, the sight might not crumble.

They aren’t going to crumble, not in the slightest. But keep in mind that as much as I like Google, their ultimate goal is very Brave New World-ish. They openly state that their goal is to index all of the world’s information – not all of the websites on-line, but “all of the world’s information.” Your gene sequences, the pattern with which you brush your teeth, all of it. The thing people are slow to realize is this: Google is not a software company or internet company; they are a media and advertising company that happens to own the most intelligent aggregator of information in the history of the world. Their websites and services are simply portals to force advertising down your throat and deliver hot-leads to whoever is willing to pay for them. The more information they index, the more they get to know YOU, presumably so that their ads are more relevant to you when you see them. The question we must ask ourselves is, “is that a good thing or not?”

Regarding their indexing of all the world’s information, let’s look at an example based on the technology they have now: Currently, if you log in to your Google desktop and enter a search for “Baseball cards” on Google, it brings up some ads of people selling baseball cards. You get the results you want and it logs the search for easy reference within the Google Desktop application. All is right in the world. Of course, this is not the end goal of Google…

Fast forward 10 years – let’s assume/presume that you use a Google software suite for email (as I do), and you’ve emailed some friends about your baseball card collection and how you need a Coco Crisp rookie card to finish your set. You also use a Google Office suite spreadsheet application (on the way) to track the baseball cards you have and missing in one of the cells of your list of cards is the name “Coco Crisp.” And you use a Google maps application (already here) to get directions to an upcoming baseball card show. At this point, when you enter “baseball cards” in Google and search, the software not only searches conventionally, but it also digs for every reference to baseball cards you have in your emails, documents, and spreadsheets and it says, “A ha! He needs a Coco Crisp card!” So, all of the ads show not people selling cards but people selling Coco Crisp cards. At the same time, you are hit with a dozen emails from people who know you are looking for a Coco Crisp card saying that they’ll be at the baseball card show you searched on Google Maps if you’d like to stop by and look at the Coco cards they have. Seems mostly harmless and actually might be pretty useful.

Now, less pleasantly, imagine that someone in our family gets a terrible disease. You email me about it and then search Google to learn about the disease. Now, instead of baseball card owners, you\’re getting hammered by doctors, pharmaceutical companies, malpractice lawyers, and undertakers all “offering” to help you with everything you could ever need in this tough and difficult time. Just so you don\’t feel alone, they\’re hammering me too since you brought me in to the conversation via email. (Thanks a lot) Furthermore, since they\’re so darn smart, Google is telling you that the affliction is hereditary and your chances of getting it are greater than you thought. Upon hearing that, you\’re in a bad mood, but the power of Google is just getting started. As part of this service, they also recommend you visit your doctor about it, and since they have pulled his name from your google address book, they have already scheduled you an appointment. (Since I\’m your brother, they\’ve done the same for me, only I don\’t show up since I don\’t like Doctors.)

All of this information is of course indexed (remember, they are trying to index all the world\’s information), so your life insurance carrier, who is using Google to monitor customers, stops your coverage because of this newly found risk. As a chain reaction from it, the health insurance company covering our family member finds out that there has been a change in YOUR coverage (info found through Google) and through a little digging, they find out why. As such they cancel the family member\’s insurance too. Upon hearing this, you and I get angry and we decide to bulldoze the office of the aforementioned insurance carrier. Problem is, we used Google\’s instant messenger to plan our mission and the local police department has been apprised of our intent, so they are waiting for us when we get there. The end result is that you and I are in jail without life insurance, our sick relative is at home not getting treated because they don\’t have health insurance, and all of our visiting hours are filled with lawyers, doctors, and the occasional rogue insurance agent offering to further help us with our problems, all of which were caused because we let Google get to know us so they could create a better advertisement targeting method.”
Think in can’t/won’t happen? The US Justice Department has won access to Google’s database of info, including user information. Furthermore, Google displays different targeted results for every country in which they have a presence. For example, sadly, people in China who use Google can’t learn about much of their history because the government managed to convince google to delete it from the Chinese-access database. Think about. The combo of acquiescing to authorities while collecting information about the masses is dangerous and a way slippery slope.

So, kudos to Google and the growing number of pies they have their fingers in to….just don’t say you weren’t warned that the filling may be sour.

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