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Amazon, Networked Insights and the Value of Privacy

Signing up for any social media account always includes some kind of clause about how freely accessible your personal information is going to be. The trouble is, as digital marketing develops, that clause has to change in order to keep up with it, meaning that at some level, your private information might be monitored more than you might be comfortable with.

There's been a lot of talk recently about government monitoring in some countries becoming too intrusive, but any government snooping has to make it past a lot of legislation guidelines and at least one vote before it can actually take effect. The real scrutiny at the moment is coming from advertisers and in some ways, that's actually a lot worse.

Targeted advertising has existed for almost as long as advertising has existed but once people started putting basically all of their personal information online, a race started to see how quickly and effectively it could be compiled, analysed and utilised. That was already happening before social media as we know it even existed, but as the reliance on it for more than just keeping in touch has grown, the race has intensified and any regard to personal privacy has begun to evaporate, to the extent to which when the public do find out how deep it goes, controversy abounds.

Amazon's public image has been rapidly deteriorating in the wake of the revelations about their tax dodging habits, so it can't have helped that last week they got caught blocking a review from the site because she was allegedly friends with the author she'd been giving positive feedback to. Of course the only way though could have known that is by sifting through her social media information. Amazon did issue a response, but it's extremely vague and they've never really been fans of clarity, their standard rebuke when faced with any kind of controversy (and it happens pretty regularly) is to outright ignore it.

Amazon might favour the cloak-and-dagger approach, but social media data-mining is no secret, broadly speaking. Take Networked Insights as an example. They are a Chicago-based firm specifically dedicated to trawling social media accounts and accumulating data. Where does that data end up? Well as of last week, some of it ends up in the hands of the hulking advertising firm, GroupM.

Networked Insights usually only work with marketers and both parties were distinctly tight-lipped about the deal. There's nothing illegal about it, but the whole framework of data-mining operates on very precarious moral grounding, which is why they don't want too much to get out. They don't want people finding out too much about what's being done with their private information. How terrifying is that?

A visual representation of Brazilian voter data (via blogs.ft.com)
It might be of some comfort to know that the data is never targeted at specific people, but rather used to create a spread of social media activity to better ascertain who is responding to what and at what frequency. The more worrying side to it is what you don't hear about. Strictly speaking, business can only access your Facebook profile information once you've 'liked' their page, but the fact that data-mining firms independent of any one business even exist suggests that there are other ways that don't require any form of consent.

The fact of the matter is that with the amount of data being pulled, there simply is not enough time or resources to facilitate explicitly asking the user's permission every single time any of their data is used and while it could be assumed that 9 times out of 10 they'd be fine with it, the scope of data-mining is only going to increase. The next generation of social media users will be able to consider how open to this kind of thing their info will be before ever signing up, it will inform their decisions about what to disclose where. The rest of us sadly don't have that luxury, we started right in the middle of the puberty stage, so to speak. All we can really do is try and get used to it.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Amazon, Networked Insights and the Value of Privacy Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 Rating: 5

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