At today’s panel on the Future of Advertising and Marketing at FutureMedia Fest, panelists noted some public confusion about the infringement of privacy that is incurred when personal information is tracked through cookies and sold to advertisers for marketing purposes. In the long run, they argued, targeted marketing will enhance the consumer experience. While very few members of the audience voiced any public objections to the collection of personal data for marketing purposes, the Twitter back channel reveals significant disagreement with the future of the advertising industry in social media. The buzz word of the session was “creepiness.”
The Startup Showcase on Monday evening provided an inside look at how companies are gathering, sorting, and using personal information for the purposes of advertising. While some of the methods were indeed creepy, many of the Startups are simply trying to revolutionize the way massive amounts of data are processed on the Internet. LikeMinds, for example, is creating a hub that will connect people who share media interests, providing recommendations for consuming new media based on the personal data that is collected from all of its users. While Amazon.com bases its recommendations on the buying habits of strangers who make similar purchases, LikeMinds attempts to funnel these recommendations through the interests of people in your social network. As media outlets amass into monstrous amounts of data additional metrics are essential to making recommendations more relevant.
Few of the staunchest critics would condemn the practice of collecting private data when it is applied to cultural founts of information, including film, television, and literature. However, what is the difference between recommendations for reading material related to what you have indicated that you “like” and an advertisement for a local thrift store targeted at you based on your gender, age, and political affiliation–information that you have voluntarily supplied to social networking sites? If that information can be further narrowed through the use of analytic or predictive data based on users’ browsing and clicking habits, certainly the consumer will be well-served. If only this technology could be directed toward the interests of academic researchers–if only WorldCat could track my research habits!
Another Startup, Swyzzle, offers a new technology that both tests the boundaries of the social marketing landscape while also providing a new way of collecting and delivering data via videos. Instead of banner ads, commercials, and awkward product placements to accompany videos on the Internet, Swyzzle integrates advertisements into the content itself by embedding hyperlinks inside the images. While these Swyzzle links could replace commercials and footer ads, they would forever change the landscape of the video screen. I can already imagine the infiltration of hyperlinked images across all video content.
But I would argue that this process of tagging and hyperlinking video images would only make more visible what is already festering under the surface of the entire entertainment industry: media content is driven by consumer viewing and buying habits. We have to stop consuming “free” content, or fundamentally change our consumer habits, if we want to eliminate advertising from the media experience. At the same time, while advertising media specialists claim that critics are naive in their understanding of cookies and tracking systems, they would be more effective if they treated consumers with respect for privacy when they explain how these systems work.