Impasse: Desire to be special, but also to live privately

08Oct12

According to the interview with Larry Light in Media Work (p. 128), technology has had a transformative impact on the advertising industry:

Technology has facilitated our ability to reach people on a more customized, more personalized basis. From the consumer point of view, we have had a change from ‘I want to be normal’ to ‘I want to be special.’

Although consumers’ desire for ‘special treatment’ may be fulfilled by content aggregation, this practice may also have unwanted consequences, including threats to personal privacy. This issue was discussed in the closed-door meeting organized by W3C, the global standards group that promotes good governance of the Internet. Unfortunately, privacy advocates and industry representatives failed to produce a consensus on the exact parameters of what, if any, information could still be collected on those who opt for the ‘do not track’ button on websites.

The roots of this dilemma stem from the different concerns of the actors involved: consumers want to be special; advertisers want to target the correct audience for their products or services; while others are concerned with the protection of privacy. The important question raised by the NYT article is: “Who determines the limits and protections of online privacy on the Internet?” The current status quo is: “the businesses running the Web,” and, for the moment, privacy advocates say the status quo is winning out. Jacob Kohnstamm, the chairman of the European Commission’s top privacy panel, stated, “It seems the process has been hijacked by commercial interests.”

Today’s Internet presents us with difficult choices, many of which we do not take time to think over thoroughly. In order to access information freely, and to “be special,” do we have to give up our privacy? It will be interesting to see if there will be some decision reached or policy enacted that can make all the parties happy, where we retain our “specialness” but also keep some information to ourselves.

The full article can be read at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/05/technology/privacy-advocates-and-advertisers-at-odds-over-web-tracking.html?smid=pl-share

Muge Fazlioglu

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