The week Edward Snowden was revealing the extent the U.S. government tracks its citizens' communications, I was at an editorial meeting where we were discussing the importance of online engagement.
Vendors want to use the Web to interact more closely with potential buyers. They want to go beyond yesterday's static ads, leveraging online conversations to influence people--especially the many whom they don't know and who don't know them yet.
I already knew engagement marketing was the new buzzword. I also have heard engineers say they share as little as possible online for fear whatever they share will be sold, spawning a stream of spam and cold calls.
A week later I was listening to a ukulele teacher at a folk festival tell us about his lessons on video on YouTube. He can find them by searching his name and the keyword "uke," but we might not find them that way because of the way Google personalizes search terms, he said.
Not unlike the analysts in the U.S. Prism surveillance program, Google and probably most companies in online advertising use many clever techniques. They swallow huge bites of big data and perform analytics on them to find patterns.
At this point you could make the case I am conflating unlike experiences, but I don't think so. There are common threads here around whether we stay anonymous or identify ourselves online and how we share and seek the treasures we have and believe are hidden somewhere on the vast Net.
We are hungry for information and connection. And everything, it seems, is on the Net.
Information can be very powerful--it can identify a killer, a multi-million dollar opportunity or a long lost friend. We want to keep some of it private. Some of it probably should stay private, and some of it probably shouldnít. The tools for hiding and guarding data online themselves are often less than transparent to the average Netizen.
I don't have any good answers, but for the last several days these questions have been circling around in my head:
How do we talk to one another online?
How do we know if we can trust whoever is on the other end of the connection?
There was a cute ad on TV some time ago. A guy at a bar asks a girl for her phone number, and then he turns around and gives it to all his buddies.
Not much we do on any electronic network can be considered secure, even if we encrypt the content. The "metadata" will continue to be there, wide open, because the backbones themselves have to use that information. You can't expect to dial a telephone number that the telco nets can't decipher, and expect the call to go through. Ditto with an IP address.
Still, my wife suggests that the Verizons of the world should have alerted their customers, when the feds began requesting untargeted metadata of everything going through their nets. Does that constitute "unreasonable searches and seizures"? At least, it ought to be up for debate. This country was founded on the premise that the government is to be limited and not automatically trusted, and we seem to be forgetting why.
There are multiple levels of Information within the data. When looking for explicit information, it is more about the questions you ask rather than the data you use.
People forget that EVERYTHING they put online is open to ANYONE to see. You cannot cry about an invasion of your personal rights when you have freely put your life into the public domain.
The NSA issue is much ado about nothing.
Its the advertising agencies that pinpoint ads to individuals who are the real bad guys.
After all, they are using your data to sell you more stuff.
Me, I am more than a little annoyed by their intrusion directly into my life than I am about Big Brother looking at message traffic.
Just my opinion.
The obvious challenge of big data is, as the name suggested, the humongous amount of information. NSA is not alone for sure. Google, Facebook and a lot of more, are trying to build a profile of any person and targeting ads to the person. Yet, there is difference between what NSA may try to do and what the other companies are doing. In my opinion, I don't think Google and FB are interested in an individual. They are interested in, rather, a group of individuals that are categorized into a similar profile.
Well! Is NSA interested in an individual? Only they can answer.
What fascinating me the most of profiling is creating categories. How do we category a group of people that we know with confidence they will buy the product on the ads.
Rick raises a really good question, "How do we know if we can trust whoever is on the other end of the connection?" I take it as, in addition, "How do we know the person on the other end is the person we know?"
Profiling, no doubt, is challenging. Given the free email service from various providers, the complexity of profiling will only be increasing.