There’s an interesting discussion developing on the internet. On one side of the “Online Privacy and Free Speech“ discussion we find companies which are making huge profits by offering their customers ‘online privacy services’. On the other side of the discussion we find the marketing and advertising business, also raking in the big money.
With their services online privacy companies state that they offer their customers more protection against tracking of personal data, mostly collected by advertising companies which in turn sell the personal data of internet users to other companies. Also referred to as data mining, corporations like it as much as governments [1, 2, 3] do.
Both ends of the table are doing business, everybody’s got to eat. One protects customers from the practices of the other, but as time moves on and as more technology is being developed the difference between both sides blurs. Take William Kerrigan for example, the current CEO at Abine. As the head of this online privacy company he provides online privacy services for Abine’s customers while, at the same time, being an executive at a $1 billion operating and holding company which develops and distributes sales and marketing engines to corporations.
It’s only fair to say that, in time (if not already), internet users will be using or buying online privacy services from actual marketing companies. With this, these companies will have control over both sides of the ‘story’. Either way they’ll have access to your personal data.
Online Privacy and Free Speech
More privacy through less tracking of personal data? Sarah Downey, Abine:
- “Make no mistake about it: we live in a state of surveillance. Hundreds of advertising and tracking companies follow everything we do online — the articles we read, the videos we watch, the sites we always visit, the Facebook comments we make, and more. They combine that online data with offline data like our voting record, employment history, and marriage licenses, and use it to build an extremely detailed profile. Companies like Facebook scan the contents of photos and private messages for Homeland Security ‘risk words’ like ‘infection’, ‘body scanner’, or “hacker” and turn them over to law enforcement… When you’re constantly being watched, you necessarily lack privacy. And when you’re constantly being watched, you act differently… To say that advertising is the only thing driving creative content doesn’t give credit to humanity’s ingrained creativity. First, plenty of content providers get paid for their work directly, from recording artists to bestselling authors to journalists.”
Less free speech through more tracking? Richard Frankel, Rocket Fuel:
- “The unintended consequence may have more insidious effects. Reducing publishers’ advertising revenues would dramatically impact the availability of content created for the web. That, in turn, would stifle investigative reporting, dissuade open discussion and commentary, and muffle free speech… If independent publishers lose a large percentage of their ad revenues, they’ll have less money to fund unbiased, journalistic content creation, they’ll have to start charging users to post content, thereby muffling the voices of many consumers who can’t or won’t pay to express their opinions… What will rise in their place? Only well-funded websites run by large publishers that do have the money to create and support content—which would, by definition, reduce the variety of voices on the web. Websites funded by corporations and wealthy individuals always have a strong bias, so the content they create or host will reflect those biases. Without ad-funded content creation, independent publishers will suffer—and so will the overall quality of content produced on the Internet. No one wants to see a world where the majority of content online comes with biases tilted toward those of the largest corporate publishers.”
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But advertising is not a bad thing at all. Writers, bloggers and journalists want readers, companies need customers, (charity) organizations need members. How do they spread the word? By promoting and advertising their work and offers.
As for the tracking of personal information, it is always advised to be careful when sharing your data online. Data mining will always exist and develop so online privacy companies can merely represent an added value to your online experience, not a full scale solution at all.