TOC Creeping customer control: creepy! Your Turn

March 11, 2008

Everyone has a price. According to Louise Story's report (*), Alaska Airlines has taken this lesson to heart. Visit its site and you will get personalized offers, fare included. This is legal "as long as those fares are not published". Since the airline computes your fare based in part on your online behavior, I foresee a great future for self-help books on "how to fool online merchants" into offering you bargains. Forget Internet as the ultimate Agora. Welcome Internet as the extreme bazaar.

Custom pricing was the norm in former times. Tim Harford, the undercover economist, has shown how today's marketers already achieve this goal off-line (1). What is creepy are the means used by online marketers, i.e. tracking one's every click to build a detailed profile. This downside has not escaped Louise Story, who hastened to ask the head of DesignBlox, the company behind Alaska Airlines custom ads, about the impact on privacy. The reply? "Consumers should really worry about what direct marketers know, not what online marketers know". I cannot wait for Louise Story to interview the Alaska Airlines CEO. "Hey folks, think of how many people die from car accidents and don't be so fixated about our safety record".

In reviewing Nicholas Carr's latest book, Mark Williams (**) echoes this quote from Peter Drucker on future gazing: "I look out the window at things that are going on, things that have already happened that people pay no attention to". I fully agree. Above is a very clear picture of what the XXIst century will provide. Yet Louise Story's analysis had been buried deep inside the business section of a large circulation newspaper (2).

If the people pays no attention to behavioral advertising, do not conclude nobody knows what is at stake. Richard Waters shoots a detailed photograph of current technical developments to enable marketers to go beyond crude bargains on a flight and offer to "plan[...] a holiday" (***). "The path towards [this fuller version of artificial intelligence] is "a continuum"". Customer control is nothing but creeping. What is creepy is how "the kings of Silicon Valley" pass the negative for a positive. "Hav[e] the entirety of the world's information as just one of [y]our thoughts" proposes a Google founder to its users. Frankly, "having the entirety of the user's thoughts as just one of our information records" would be more accurate.

Your cellphone will soon be your only personal computer, to use with whatever input/output devices happen to be handy. Filing from Paris about new trends on "mobile social networking", Victoria Shannon (****) reminds us of "the ability [of the service provider] to know where a cellphone is". Did I complain about abusive personal data mining? Kate Greene is happy to introduce us to Sandy Pentland (*****) who studies all the "information collected by cellphone sensors that can measure location, physical activity, and more", such as social relations. It's called reality mining.

Forget about my Big Brother Halloween nightmare. Three scourges are sure to gain more and more power. The virtual marketer, to remind you of all you ought to do lest your neighbor find you to be clueless. Virtual Catbert, the evil Human Resource director (3), to tell you how to behave outside of the office if you want to keep your health insurance and ultimately your job. And the virtual censor, to prevent you from unvetted information. Look for example at Adam Liptak's article about "free" speech (******). You may be able to ask for redress but savor the fact that the same system which controls you will handle your protest. Things are indeed happening that people pay no attention to.

Privacy though has a price. Reject Newspeak. Dump thin client computers. Forgo erasing borders between clients and servers. To keep the benefits of personalization together with those of privacy, read about ePrio's solutions. Learn how they can deliver. Ask they be adopted.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) .............. Online Pitches Made Just for You, by Louise Story (New-York Times) - March 6, 2008
  • (**) ........... The Digital Utility, by Marc Williams (Technology Review) - March/April, 2008
  • (***) ......... World-wise web? , by Richard Waters (Financial Times) - March 4, 2008
  • (****) ...... Social Networking Moves to the Cellphone, by Victoria Shannon (New-York Times) - March 6, 2008
  • (*****) .... Reality Mining, by Kate Greene (Technology Review) - March/April, 2008
  • (******) .. A Wave of the Watch List, And Speech Disappears, by Adam Liptak (New-York Times) - March 4, 2008
  • (1) see Deals within deals, by Tim Harford (Financial Times) - October 2005 - already mentioned in our 08/08/06 filip
  • (2) What a great sense of timing.
    -- On the day I uploaded this fillip, the New-York Times published a front page article by the same Louise Story on the very subject.
    -- Will the people insist ignorance is bliss and shrug off this very prominent warning? We will examine the import of this report next week.
  • (3) see a presentation of Catbert by its creator
March 2008
Copyright © 2008 ePrio Inc. All rights reserved.