I wrote recently about Google +1, the recently launched social media network that gives new competition to Facebook. It seems Facebook and Google are in a war for information… and it’s your personal information what they want.
Remember the days when we watched cheesy sci-fi movies about computers that acted like humans and laughed (or shuddered) at the thought? Remember War Games, for example, with Matthew Broderick? In War Games a supercomputer, programmed to “learn” by it’s creator, adopts its own personality and takes over the US military machine, potentially starting a global war. What I find ironic is that the computer has a personality, that of a child who wants to learn.
Humans love to learn. And the computer in War Games wanted to learn also. It wanted to learn so badly that it created a scenario in which it couldn’t be stopped. Disaster was narrowly avoided. We all heaved a sigh of relief when the computer finally learned that there are no winners possible in a nuclear war, and shut itself down.
The “supercomputer” called the internet is not one computer, but millions, all tethered by bits of code that form a global web of communication. When the internet was in its infancy, privacy was considered essential and intrinsic to its nature. Privacy of personal information, and private data, was an expectation. Monetization of personal information was not a motivating factor in the development of the internet.
Fast forward several decades. The emergence of a whole new marketplace online has taken over since 1990, the year in which the first online server for the internet was launched. In 2010 e-commerce of products in US reached almost 8% of retail sales nationally with a gross revenue of $142.5 billion. Is it any wonder that businesses are interested in capturing more of the internet sale pie? As Nathan Newman writes in part I of his series entitled The Cost of Lost Privacy,
“One original promise of the Internet was that “no one knows you’re a dog on the Internet” but we have instead evolved through data-mining and online surveillance into a world where not only do companies know what you are, they know where you are and what you are most interested in.”
This leads us straight to the truth of why Facebook and Google are now battling for control of your personal information. Any surprise the answer is money? Let’s follow the logic. Since search engines sell advertising, the better they can deliver sales to their advertisers, the more money they can make. The best way to deliver sales is by targeting advertising to the best potential customers for a given advertiser. The best way to target advertising? Learn about potential customer’s personal tastes, interests, budget, and whatever else you can.
This is why Facebook has taken over online PPC advertising with snappy little ads that link to Facebook fan pages for businesses. Since Facebook’s computers have learned a lot of personal information about its users through their own online posts, connections, and profiles, this makes target marketing for advertisers much more effective. Google has not been able to compete successfully since it’s lacked personal data… until now. Now Google wants a piece of the pie, and it’s launched Google +1 to get that piece.
Will it work? Will you jump on board with Google +1 and start feeding it your personal data, as the news media proclaims many folks are? Or are you getting a little weary of having to manage multiple social networks and find that Facebook already fills your desire to connect? How much do you want the “supercomputer called the internet” to learn about you? Is there an upside to all this? Your comments are welcome!
Perhaps the bigger question is “at what point do we shut the supercomputer down?” We have laws against legal profiling in the US based upon race for example, yet it would seem that demographic profiling via the internet is bringing huge profits to those who can target their marketing effectively through the usage of social media profiles, and this garners little attention among lawmakers. Is income inequity being driven by the online revolution as Nathan Newman suggests? You are the “decider” on this issue.
The upside for users is some interactive features that make life more fun and interesting, like video chat. The downside is that you are being watched and tracked by marketers. Another upside is that the ads you see displayed on your social media profile page or Facebook wall are increasingly ones that might be more attractive to you, a potential benefit. Who will be winner in this game? I’d like to think it will be the user, like we thought in the early days of the internet. Time will reveal how public opinion swings on this issue, and the issue of online privacy in general. Subscribe to this blog for more on this issue and many others involving social media and online marketing. Talk soon!