Web’s Goldmine – or – Consumer Jackpot?
This weekend the Wall Street Journal produced a well researched article called The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. Apparently, it’s the first in a series of articles about Internet tracking practices. It’s entirely informative and chock full of quotes, anecdotes, video and interesting visuals. I highly recommend giving this article a read if you subscribe to the WSJ, or encourage you to join the discussion on their blog. However, I take serious issue with the bias inherent within this first article. The author, Julia Angwin uses phraseology like “the business of spying on consumers”, and “…details about her, all to be put up for sale for a tenth of a penny”. Clearly, the conclusion drawn by the author and presented to readers is that tracking solutions are spawned from malice. I vehemently disagree.
While, it’s true that some tracking can be used for devious function, the majority of uses are fully anonymous and serve to benefit end users exponentially. The reality is that media fragmentation, facilitated by the Internet, has forced advertisers to compete for our attention. To do this, they’re hocking their wares in a significantly more relevant way. By serving up advertising content that’s based on activity, propensity and preference, they are saving us from the irrelevant fire hose of most advertising. Without being coarse, I find that the fact that some consumers are self-conscious and sensitive to advertising that’s targeted to their browsing activity as trivial. It’s trivial compared to the the benefits that targeting delivers to the rest of us.
I’ve got more to say on this topic, a lot more in fact, but I’ll stop short for now. My closing thought is that, while the author of the Web’s New Goldmine may see the art and science of tracking as a boon for advertisers… I see it as a significant win for consumers. A jackpot perhaps. I hope and expect that my online and offline interactions with brands will get increasingly better and more relevant as my interactions continue. Tracking will enable this to happen. But, that’s just me…I’d love to know what you think.