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Business and Advertisements and Privacy: Not the conspiracy some might think

February 24th, 2012

This is an article for the flip side; There is a lot of controversy going on right now with regards to privacy, with both governments and corporations being accused of either violating it and/or not keeping it.

Before proceeding, let me be clear: A certain level of privacy is not only a good thing, but critical for simple safety; You would never want your financial account numbers, social security numbers or various other forms of ID broadcast publicly. That's not what this article is about.

We see many people making the argument that they don't want 'big business being able to read every word we write!' and so on. Unfortunately, that is more or less (much more "more" than "less") a red herring, because here is the kicker:

They don't care what you write.

They really don't.

In fact, the chances of a human being actually reading the contents of your email or the web pages you browse or the social media comments you post are pretty close to null. What really goes on is computer applications scan through your content, looking for patterns; Repeated words or phrases and attempt to build a profile of what you are more likely to be interested in buying.

Think about this for a moment: When you watch television, you are bombarded with ads covering just about the entire spectrum: From football to tampons to acne medication to garden implements. They have to, because they really have no way of knowing who is watching the show, other than a very general demographic of who is *likely* to watch said show (which is often wrong, anyway). But if you think for a nano-second that your $30-$100 a month that you pay to your cable or satellite company comes anywhere *close* to paying for the content you watch, you are sadly mistaken: Yes, it is those ads that pay the massive majority of the costs of bringing the latest episode of "The Big Bang Theory" or "Vampire Stories" into your living room each week.

Now: Move over to the Internet; Unlike television, the 'net is a bi-directional medium: That is to say: Not only to we have information pushed towards us, but we send information in return. Equally, just like television, there is an awful lot of content on the 'net that you enjoy that certainly isn't being paid for by your free visit to them: They have to pay their bills too, after all.

Unlike television, though, they don't *have* to take a scattergun approach to advertising: I will be the first to admit: I'm a guys' guy: I like power tools, large horsepower trucks and big 'splosions. I will also admit that I have never, in my nearly four decades of life, ever had the need for a tampon or any other feminine hygiene product, so that begs the question: Why waste everyones' time if I am browsing a site that uses advertising to pay its bills, by showing an ad that I have *ZERO* chance of being interested in, much less buying ?

Why not *use the technology* we have at our disposal to make those ads not only relevant to me, but relevant to the site I happen to be visiting, too ? If I am reading an article on how to adjust the brake shoes on my truck, would it not make more sense to have an ad for a torque wrench along the side, rather than "Rainforest Lip Gloss" ?

I see a lot of the privacy advocates nearly frothing at the mouth at the thought of "big business" reading all their personal mail and going through their Facebook comments, but that really, *really* doesn't make any sense: The data that these applications sift through covers *millions* of people: A human being, even a small army of human beings, could not possibly go through it all and make sense of any of it.

Besides: If you happen to be posting naughty content about the affair you're having with your neighbour, that Trojan ad may just be a timely reminder :)

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