I just finished reading The Circle by David Eggers and it made my skin crawl in the best way possible: it got me thinking. The idea that we as a society might allow a single corporation to deny individuals the right to opt out may not be completely realistic. Even so, it is something our increasingly “opt-in” society should be wary of.
To clarify, I’m talking about all of the modern “necessities” that mine that sweet, sweet data. Buried deep within the terms and conditions of Facebook and Twitter are the legally-binding statements that allow them to sell your information to advertisers. In theory, that means that only the most relevant ads reach you. In practice, it means that companies know more about you than you’re probably comfortable with.
The targeting options that advertisers have at their fingertips is truly staggering. I can target Twitter users based on beverage purchases, insurance tendencies, and philanthropic engagement. Nielsen can predict the restaurants you eat at and TV shows you watch based on your age, purchasing power, and zip code. Digital targeting has become weirdly specific, and kind of unnerving.
As a media student, I struggle with determining how private data should be. I hate the idea of advertisers knowing how terrible my diet is or that I suffer from seasonal allergies. I’ve also unironically uttered the following statement: “I know the data is out there. This media plan would write itself if we could just access it!”
Our thirst for data can have major benefits. Wearable companies like Fitbit use de-personalized aggregate data to help aid medical studies. The theoretical ideal of eliminating irrelevant ads is one both advertising professionals and consumers can get behind. At what point, however, does the cost of opting in outweigh the benefits?
I can’t really answer that. We may be a little too quick to opt-in, but we’re not the totalitarian nightmare that’s presented in The Circle. Still, it’s worthwhile for advertisers and brands to consider the ethics of data collection, especially as digital privacy threatens to dwindle to near non-existence. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.