Tracking online usage. Much ado about nothing?
Tracking online usage is not the same as stealing data.
It’s the latter you should worry about.
Facebook has announced (click here), that going forward, it will be tracking online usage patterns of their users, on Facebook, and off Facebook too.
They now join Google in tracking their users’ browsing habits to serve them with more targeted advertising.
Over the last few months there has been a raging debate about privacy of data and surfing habits. Across the globe there are 2 sides to the debate. Those who favour it justify the need to track user behaviour. Those who are against it, are fighting tooth and nail to protect their privacy.
The fact is, that the internet is the least private medium on earth. Everything you do, can be and is being tracked, somewhere in the world.
Most people aren’t aware of how far this can go, focusing their protests on popular service providers like Google and Facebook.
The fact is that there are many other providers who are already violating the privacy of data and personal information that people are fighting to protect.
At least Facebook and Google are announcing their intentions before acting on it.
At least they aren’t publishing private data on a website for the whole world to see (see inset below).
Private but public!
How many people you know, are even aware of a service like Yatedo?
This service scrapes together little bits of information from across the web, and puts together a complete profile of a person, without them even being aware of it.
Or for that matter, a service like Spokeo which aggregates your publicly shared digital information from over 60 different social media sites, and lists it on a single page.
Even data that is stored in your profile as private, can find its way into Yatedo, if someone who is on your friends list / in your network, decides to make their profile public or share their contacts with it.
Apparently Yatedo is not doing anything illegal. Proven by the fact that despite many people raising a stink for many years, it is still alive, kicking and flourishing.
So where does that leave our argument?
Ask yourself this… would you pay to use Facebook? Or Gmail? Or pay to perform a Google search?
Yes? Well, you’re in a minority. The popularity of most of these services is driven by the fact that you do not pay anything to use them.
And anyone providing you a free service would try to extract the maximum benefit out of the relationship you share with them.
After all, advertising revenue is what drives them, keeps them afloat and able to provide the service… at no cost to you.
And in order to get more bang for the buck, the service provider researches and tracks usage patterns to give their users a more personalised experience.
For their advertisers, the companies provide consumer targeting that could only be dreamed about till yesterday.
As a parallel, it is worthwhile to note what happened in the retail industry, years (in fact decades) ago.
Consumer behaviour was studied across supermarkets in the developed world, and the art of retailing was born.
Studying the behaviour of customers at supermarkets, experts learned where to place products, how to display them, which colours attracted consumers, which repelled them, how to target different groups of consumers, so that every time they visited a supermarket, the maximum possible ‘conversion into sale’ happened.
The same thing is being replicated in the digital world, with the difference being that the tracking is now even more personal, taking into account your personal and individual preferences.
User tracking is here to stay. If you have an issue with that, the only way you could fight back, is to stop using the service.
The bottom line is this.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Except at the nearest branch of the Salvation Army! (Which, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t really free either!)