Behavioral Search Engines and Privacy Laws: Are You Sure You Want to Go There?

The NYTimes reports that Virginia Democrat Representative Rick Boucher, who now chairs the House Subcommittee on telecommunications, technology and the internet, wants to write a law to require web surfers to "opt-in" to share personal information with trafficked web sites. I'm sorry, but I just don't think that is necessary. Think about it: less than 10 years ago, people were spooked because Amazon knew their book selections and was suggesting related books. Now-a-days, if a site doesn't have the "suggested items," users get really crabby and want to know why the site is so "unsophisticated." In fact, according to a TRUSTe survey, site visitors are getting less paranoid about online tracking: last year, 57% found online tracking "disturbing". this year, it dropped to 51%. OPA Intelligence Report, 3/16/09. Sure, people are "saying" that people are squeamish about Google tracking social behavior to figure out what ads are more interesting to them. Interestingly, though, Yahoo! rolled out their own version of social behavior targeting called "Search Retargeting" on February 24 with barely a whimper from privacy advocates. Think about it: its no different than merchandising at a grocery store. Kroger's and other grocery stores display the Kraft's parmesan cheese next to the frozen pizza. Nobody's griping about that. Kroger's and other grocery stores have their little "frequent flyer" cards hooked on shoppers' key rings to get "substantial savings" in exchange for letting grocers know what kind of food shoppers are buying. Nobody's griping about that. So go ahead, make our overworked, over-bloated, nothing-better-to-do government wrangle over this "privacy" law that requires all of your favorite ISPs, search engines, e-mail accounts and web sites to post little check boxes so that you have to click to allow them access to your online excavations. But I can guarantee you that in 5 years or less, you are going to be clicking every single one of those boxes because, doggone it, it's a hassle to reload your personal data into each of your favorite sites. Because I can guarantee you that Google and all the other search providers--Sear's included--is going to figure out a way to make you WANT to give them your personal surfing information. Maybe something like, if you follow the scavenger hunt from Sears to Disneyto Netflix, you will get a free movie. Or if you go from Google to NASCAR to ticketmaster, you will get a 3% discount. Or, even better, if you go to Google to Medweb to your doctor to the hospital, all of your medical files will follow you. Just imagine the future. Do really you want to slow it down? Besides, Rick Boucher's busy trying to convert all of our TVs to digital right now. You don't want to stop him from working on that, do you?

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Kirsten Grant said...

I like this article and never thought about it this way.

And yes, I do like my cheese in the grocery store next to my pizza. **smile**

Avi Rappoport / SearchTools.com said...

The OpenID and OpenAuth protocols actually address this pretty well. I can own my data and don't have to type it in over and over, but can choose to share parts of it when I want to. I like that more than just giving up completely on any chance at privacy.

PS - here via your April Fool, very nicely done!

lillian said...
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