The Data Collection Fear: Is it Realistic?

Casey BartoEver since it was revealed last week that the NSA has been tracking millions of Americans’ cell phone records and Internet data, people have been up in arms – more so than usual.
The generation that posts nearly every move they make to social networks now seems to want more privacy. And now it seems the furor of the NSA news has renewed the public concern over data mining and collection, according to The Washington Post.

“Programs like PRISM ostensibly target potential terrorists,” writes Washing Post contributor Caitlin Dewey. “But commercial data mining has a much broader mandate: Sell stuff to people by targeting ads based on where they go and what they do online. As a result, consumers are increasingly watched by third parties no matter where they browse the Web.”

An issue, Dewey says, is that though many Americans are somewhat aware of data collection, they’re unaware of the scope of it. At one end of the spectrum is information like your address, name and birthday while at the other end is what you search for and like to buy online.

While government data gathering and tracking is a whole different issue, the fear behind the online tracking for marketing is unfounded. Yes, companies have data about your online activities, your purchases, some of your interests. Responsible companies use that information to provide you with an enjoyable and relevant online experience.

Think about it. Has anyone’s life been negatively impacted because they received a targeted ad for a lawn mower they were looking for or received coupons for their favorite cereal brand? Probably not.

So, why are people so terrified about being ‘tracked’ online? It could have something to do with stories that begin like this: “With every phone call they make and every Web excursion they take, people are leaving a digital trail of revealing data that can be tracked by profit-seeking companies and terrorist-hunting government officials.”

Revealing data? What kind of revealing data? And isn’t every company profit-seeking (isn’t that the point of being in business)? For most responsible profit-seeking companies, this kind of revealing data could include your email address, birthday, shipping address, the last thing you bought on their site – all information that you willingly provided to them at some point during your interactions.

In the coming months, we’ll be exploring how 1st party tracking works, what exactly is in a customer profile and how that data gets collected and more.

In the meantime, what do you think about the renewed fear over data collection? Are people overreacting or is it justified?

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