Turow (Communication/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age, 2006, etc.) warns that today’s advertising industry is secretly reshaping our world—and not for the better.
Using the Internet, writes the author, marketers and media now peek, poke, analyze and tag us, gathering data for “one of history’s most massive stealth efforts in social profiling.” Turow shows that advertiser efforts to understand consumer buying impulses now involve many digital tracking tools as well as companies like BlueKai and Rapleaf, which follow people on and across websites to learn what they care about and who their friends are. Once collected, customer information analyzed so marketers can divide people into targets and waste, writes the author. Targets are desirable consumers; waste has no value. When companies “track people without their knowledge, sell their data without letting them know what they are doing or securing their permission, and then use the data to decide which of these people are targets or waste, we have a serious social problem.” All these privacy-breaching and social-profiling activities are legal and unregulated, and all are becoming standard practice among media buyers in top advertising firms. As a result, the industry has information on the social backgrounds, locations, activities, and social relationships of hundreds of millions. Turow traces the history of advertising’s evolving relationship with the Internet, debunks arguments that the consumer is king in the new media environment and says advertisers are segregating people and customizing content on the basis of assigned reputations. The practices persist despite the fact that 79 percent of respondents in a 2005 survey said they are nervous about websites having information about them.
An eye-opener that will startle readers, the book offers grist for policy makers and others battling to preserve a shred of privacy in America.