The four major cell phone networks in the USA are looking to sell your user specs to advertisers, Tech Crunch reports. That is, the ones who don't already. AT&T now wants to take your browsing history, location data, and online habits and get on the bandwagon pioneered by Facebook and Google. Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are apparently already in on the current fashion for making even more money off the people that already pay for their services.
Now, I'm all for making money out of my online footprint, web searches and social media activity. Hang on, let me rephrase that, I'm all for ME making money out of my online footprint. If everyone wants to cut me a cheque from a percentage of what my user data adds up to in advertising revenue then I'd be totally OK with that.
Of course, we're talking such tiny amounts per data-generator that you'd never get much more than a free cup of coffee out of it, but when you add up all the companies doing it, you might be drinking free coffee for the rest of your life.
And at the very least, if we were to become shareholders in our own online 'product,' then the cost to those doing the selling would be massive, which might make them a little less eager to sell off our valuable online mojo. They always seem to palm it off as 'personalizing' our web experience, but should the trade in our consumer data be something we simply have to accept?
Of course, leaving an online footprint is part and parcel of using search engines, social media and apps, and it certainly can make your time spent online more relevant, but if the only benefit is simply to try to sell me more crap then I for one can certainly live without it. Having said that though, I tend to ignore ads anyway, so what's the difference if I'm ignoring ads that are supposedly more directed to my interests?
I'm well aware that ads pay for sites and it makes sense that those ads are tailored to the audience using the web page, app or whatever. So using customer data in an aggregate, anonymous way (that means your activity provides statistics that don't point back to you personally) makes sound business sense. So what are we all worked up about?
So it's not MY information they're selling, just everyone's. And I get to be a part of that everyone. If I choose to. To better enhance my consumer, I mean, web experience. They also note that everyone else is selling this information, so why shouldn't they. We're all familiar with Facebook and Google ads, so why not get used to it on a service you pay for too?
Fortunately, opting out of this stuff is not so difficult, and the simple fact that everyone is doing it is slowly making us all more aware of how our information is used and how we can protect our privacy if that's our thing. The trusty folk at Tech Crunch have compiled the opt out links for the four major carriers.
Some say it's all no big deal, that we're givin' it away anyway so who cares what's done with it. Fair enough, but there are others out there who think that this is the thin end of the wedge and that before long, we'll be paying companies to make money off us (oh wait, we already do that).
People used to think putting information online was harmless, then we had a multi-billion dollar identity theft market that barely existed before. Fortunately, as problems increased, awareness did too and identity theft is nowhere near the bogeyman it once was. Then again, we had Facebook scraping up user phone numbers without their permission just last week.
The recent PRISM-scandal, and news of Brazil, France and China doing the same thing, makes everyone feel uncomfortable, and for good reason. No-one wants their private information read through by the government, but everything is OK if it's advertisers doing it to make more money?
After all, what is the real difference between social media companies, search engines, phone companies and so on giving compiled information on users to the government, and those very same service providers selling that information to advertisers? It all feels wrong to me. At the very least the government has national security to fall back on, whereas advertisers are simply out to make a buck.
Of course, we all feel that we've got nothing to hide, but that doesn't mean we should be giving it all away for free. And it certainly doesn't feel to me like we should be giving it away for free so others can make money off it and then sell it all back to us.
Do you meticulously manage and monitor what information you share online? Do you like the idea of more relevant content being delivered to you by advertisers or does it all make you feel a little icky?