Progress, Promise or Paranoia?

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What is the value of information?  What about the value of personal information?  For advertisers, there is nothing more valuable … and they are willing to pay great sums for it.  The more they know about you, the easier it is to persuade you to buy whatever they are selling.  On the one hand, the more others know about me, the better they can tailor their offerings to my particular wants and desires … which is great for me as a consumer.  On the other hand, I don’t want people snooping, prying, or baiting me for my personal information.   How do we keep a healthy balance in this age of information and immediate gratification?  I don’t pretend to have the answers … But I have a good idea about what the future might hold for us.

Consider our online behaviour and how we seek out information. When you want go see a movie, how do you decide?  If you’re an old guy (40) like me, you will likely Google a potential title an look for reviews and trailers. That’s so 2009! A new school of information  gathering is quickly emerging where folks look to Twitter for info on which movies to see or where to eat dinner.  At first thought, you might say, “trend zombies, cheese chasers … Twitter is for kids.”  But there is real validity in asking advice from your selected peers (your trusted followers/friends) who likely share your tastes … rather than consulting a horde of complete strangers gathered by the Googlenomics engine.  Remember though, sites like Twitter and Facebook need to make money … and they do so by giving advertisers access to the information we all put into their databases.

Quid pro quo?   That depends on your perspective … certainly not for the sanctity of private, personal information.  For better or worse.

I was chatting with Chris Day, founder of Fully Managed while we were in Ottawa at an IT peer group meeting.  We were talking about Foursquare; a social networking system for exploring and rewarding travel and discovery in various cities. You log in with your smartphone and you earn points and badges for discovering new things like restaurants and attractions when you travel.

Sounds neat … but think about all the information the folks at Foursquare are gathering here.  I’ve already expressed my reservations about posting personal and family information to most internet-based systems (here and here).

What is the result of all this information gathering and sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc…?  Ultimately, I can see  a massive purchasable database of demographics, behaviour, desires, and the exact whereabouts of just about every web-enabled consumer on the planet … complete with real-time updates maintained by the actual database subjects themselves (you and me and our kids).

Imagine walking down the street (your last tweet tells the database exactly where you are and that you are hungry), the smartphone GPS systems (Bing, Google, iPhone) notify the database that you are approaching a restaurant … Facebook or Foursquare tells the database that you love Thai food and that your friend Chris ate Thai food here last week.  LinkedIn tells the database that you are a member of the Citrix Platinum Partners … and finally, your smartphone tells the restaurant owner that you are about to walk by the front of her restaurant.

BOOM.  The Thai restaurant’s instant marketeer jumps out and says, “Hello Ted! We have a special for Citrix Partners for the next 5 minutes on Singapore noodles! Your friend Chris recommends our restaurant and it looks like you will earn a Super Mayor Foursquare Badge for eating here!”

Incredible? Incredibly scary?  One thing is for sure … This is the future.  I’m going to chat with my 13 year old son and have him calm me down.

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