If you're a fan of Slayer but you don't smoke cigarettes, will you still be shown a higher rate when you go to renew your health insurance online, just because the insurance company assumes you do?
Or let's say you operate an 'exclusive' online club with a very restrictive membership policy. How hard would it be to exclude applicants for being of the wrong ethnic, sexual, or political persuasion? Not hard at all.
4. Two wrongs could still undo your rights
As I've written about a few times before, online data profiles are often wildly inaccurate. You may be a spindly old crone who never leaves the house, but data tracking company X thinks you're a NASCAR dad who smokes cigars and eats nachos. You may be pegged as a trendy soccer mom when you are instead a manly intrepid reporter who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
Multiple people may use the same browser, confusing the profilers. Or maybe you're clever and visit Web sites totally at random to pollute their data and throw them off the scent.
It doesn't matter. You might receive benefits you otherwise wouldn't – like coupons for that big party size bag of Doritos. Or you might be needlessly penalized by a car insurance company that decides you're a curly fries-eating metal-head who can't be trusted to obey the posted speed limit. But your profile data could still be used to make decisions about you in invisible ways.
It's a safe bet that tracking technology will get far more precise and accurate over time. Whether that's a comfort or a worry, I'm not sure yet. But I am sure we need a way to just say no to tracking, and for our choices to be honored.
Whether that's via some grand compromise between technologists and advertisers or it takes an act of Congress ultimately doesn't matter. But it has to happen.
Because it's important.
Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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