Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Digital tracking by The Numerati

NPR’s Fresh Air program had a fascinating discussion on the role of digital information in our lives, and how much information we leave behind in our daily lives. What websites you visit, what you buy at the grocery store or Borders, and if you’re GPS-equipped, where your car is at any given moment. Privacy freaks are getting no sleep at all these days.

“The Numerati” is the sinister name given to the technophiles who mine all this data for clues to our habits and preferences. Business Week senior writer Stephen Baker (he also writes blogspotting.net) has a new book on the nature of all this digital spying.

After watching the movie Will Smith in “Enemy of the State” and Sandra Bullock in “The Net” (and knowing that Hollywood is years behind real NSA technology), I’ve pretty much given up any illusion that I have any real privacy left. In this tabloid, pay-you-for-a-scoop-on-your-mom era, I have no secrets that I trust will stay secret. For the right price, some hacker can expose my entire life. You won’t have to worry about me running for office.

Having given in to the Eye in the Sky, I’m actually OK with the grocer spitting out a coupon at checkout for something I actually want. When they start calling me at home addressing me by my first name, then I’ll complain. I kind of want to pretend that strangers do not know all about me (the same way I answer the phone with a nonchalant “hello,” when I already know from Caller ID whose calling).

Baker’s book points out that marketers do not fully know how to use all the data that’s available. They’ll figure it out eventually. The question is, what are you doing to find out more about your customers and prospects. What do they want? When, and in what color? The winners of the information game will have the first shot at a sale. But please have the decency to allow your customer to think his life is still mostly private.

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