We are living in the age of the internet, there is no denying it. Wherever you go there is internet available and many countries are committing significant amounts of time and money in order to increase the availability of high speed internet throughout their countries. Even some companies such as Google are trying to increase the availability of Wi-Fi using balloon powered satellites. Although now we have more people logging on than ever before, is this actually a good thing? The reason that I ask this question is because of targeted advertising. Is your privacy in trouble? Have the companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter who make most, if not all, of their income from targeted advertising got too much power?
Targeted advertising is a very touchy subject at the moment. Many of the most powerful and most profitable tech firms on the internet such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have been collecting information about people in somewhat dubious circumstances to better target their advertising towards you. If you aren’t weary of targeted advertising then perhaps a few of the examples below will change that.
The mother of all social media networks is certainly no stranger to controversy when it comes to privacy issues. This week however it managed to wow the world again as well as scare a lot of people. Facebook announced they are releasing an advertising app that records what music and TV you are listening to through your smartphone microphone. Using a massive database it can then work out what you are watching and listening to and better target its advertising towards you. While Facebook claims that you can opt out of the app and that it cannot listen to your conversations, do you trust them?
Nicole Simon from Techcrunch said:
"While the idea is nice and technology really interesting, I have no interest in Facebook 'observing' my audio and surrounding. Yes, it starts currently as opt-in, and only on occasion, but there is no trust from my side for even that."
As advertising is the company’s main source of income I suppose they could be excused for just trying to increase their profits. However, it is also a bit scary. The idea of a Sci-Fi big brother style world where you’re conversations are being listened to jumps to mind.
Privacy offender number one Google is the daddy of all privacy intruding companies. Also nearly all of these privacy intrusions have been to help their targeted advertising. It is actually quite scary how brazen Google will be in order to obtain the information it needs for targeted advertising. For example, Google recently bought wireless heating appliance controller Nest. At first glance it may seem like a normal business transaction. The problem however is that Google’s acquisition of Nest effectively lets Google inside your home if you own a Nest appliance. They are already on your computer and now they are in your home and using the system to gather information about you for their targeted advertising campaigns. The PandoDaily's Carmel Deamicus and Michael Carney said: “Nest products track detailed information about their users’ movements, in addition to things like a user’s WiFi IP address, and whether the specific address is a home or a business.”
Google have also faced some legal problems recently over Google glass and the ‘right to be forgotten’. The ‘right to be forgotten’ (in other words: to remove your old data from search engine results), is something that is hard to implement. The internet is very complicated and could damage Google’s targeted advertising business model if it is actually possible for people to be forgotten.
Google glass, what is essentially a computer turned into a pair of glasses, on the other hand has run into legal issues because of the gathering of information in the first place. People are worried that Google are and will be using the glasses to listen to peoples conversations, observe what you are watching, listening to and where you go to have fun. That is certainly a valid concern as no one really knows what kind of information they are collecting. Lawyer Brad Shear said: "Copyright issues if someone tapes in a movie theatre. Invasion of privacy. Peeping Tom laws. HIPAA problems with Glass in a doctor's office. Issues with taping kids."
Although it makes all of its revenue from advertising, Twitter is actually not really a privacy perpetrator, yet. The thing that it has done recently on the targeted advertising front is language targeting. It recently introduced a method of monitoring the language of their users and adjusting the language of ads accordingly. While this is not scary, it does make you think that they might well be on the slippery slope towards the same level as Facebook and Google.
If Google is starting to get into your home and perhaps even watching who you hang around with it is quite scary. Facebook is even listening to your TV and Stereo, what is next? Twitter at least seems to be sticking to the rules for now! So the question is, with all of these amazing innovative but also scary technologies out there, has targeted advertising gone too far? Have we given the companies too much power? Are we handing them the keys to our privacy?