August 16, 2006

Privacy on the Web is Gone

Last week, AOL made headlines through a huge public relations gaffe where the Internet giant released the search records from hundreds of users. Though the users were not identified by name, their very personal searches were unearthed for all to see, and it didn't take detectives to rapidly match some names with their search terms (New York Times). This once again has the Web abuzz over what data should be kept private, and what should not.

With that discussion ongoing, Google has very publicly stated that they have no intention to stop recording user searches, and will use this data to help shape future services. But the time to worry about being anonymous on the Web is long gone. Savvy marketers and blog owners know your every click. They know what search terms you used, what Web site directed you to theirs, and what pages you clicked on when you got here. They know whether you use Mac or PC, and whether you use Firefox, Safari or IE. That's standard, whether content owners are utilizing the highly-popular SiteMeter, or more advanced tools, like WebTrends and LeadLander.

In parallel, has raised eyebrows by its acknowledging that they are going to request even more data from their users, including sexual orientation and religion, in addition to the standard address information and accumulated preferences through ongoing site purchases.

If there is a tool that marketers can use to more nimbly target their products and help you to buy more, they are going to use it. With technology improvements taking place all the time to aid the selling process, we're naive if we think we can surf idly from site to site without somebody paying attention. And it's not a moral crisis either. It's big business. We should just accept it. As Tom Formenski writes, "this data never goes away," adding "Your every click and keystroke online is being collected by many different organisations, and that means that at some point it will be possible to track it all, and identify most of it. Welcome to the future transparency of your life."

Listening to ''The Hush - Think'', by Bedrock (Play Count: 4)