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Web Exclusive: The Fact That We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

1 Jun, 2015 By: Peter Feinstein Response


I love the creative ingenuity and intellectual curiosity behind the idea of connecting online activity with a person’s real address.

Picture it with me: A couple of guys sitting on a patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv. They’ve been brainstorming things over a beverage or two when one of them says, “How cool would it be if we could offer companies all over the globe a way to totally and accurately deliver correctly targeted advertising based on exactly where their target consumers are … or, more accurately, where they aren’t — at home?”

Not that far-fetched, right? It’s brilliant — and easily the most dangerous use of technology I’ve ever seen discussed in one of our trade publications.

Of course, it would be naïve of me to think that technology like this — or even more invasive, intrusive and disruptive — doesn’t already exist somewhere in the military-industrial complex. But this is the first time I’ve seen something this powerful, with the obvious ability to be put to harmful use, in the otherwise harmless world of advertising.

Think I’m nuts? Really? The leap from something, “… so powerful, say its developers, that it can know when you’re at home or away in order to serve ads relevant to your physical proximity” to something virulently dangerous requires only a change in user.

So instead of tracking your location for delivery ads, it can be used to track your every movement, home or away, for whatever purpose the user deems reasonable — state security, for example.

Look, I’m not a doomsday kind of guy. I live in the present and don’t get too wrapped up in worrying about the future. But this technology has no business being developed and used in the fast-and-loose world of advertising. In this case, I made the jump from admiration to suspicion in a single thought. I suspect the motives, and I fear what are certain to be unintended consequences.

This isn’t something anyone needs. Ever. “Desires?” Sure. “Needs?” Not even remotely. Human beings, myself included sometimes, have a really hard time differentiating between the two.

Yeah, I know, these guys are just a few among many; if they don’t do, it someone else will. I’ve heard that specious argument before and it doesn’t hold water, because no one else is doing it. They are. They’ve patented it — and no one who has patented technology, gone to press about its use, and demonstrated its power is just going to walk away from it. They have made a catastrophic leap from desire to require, and now we’ve got this possible menace to humankind about to be pushed onto us in the guise of true addressability for delivering advertising.

So the argument shifts to another old saw: that my information is already out there, and this isn’t much of a departure. It’s just how existing information is being used.

Clearly, you think I was born yesterday, right? I am unconcerned about the fact that my address is in hundreds of disparate databases all over the planet, and that it’s not really private. The idea, though, that anyone can determine whether I’m in my home by virtue of what they know I’m doing on my smartphone is an invasion of my privacy. I don’t care what the purpose is. I call it as I see it: bulls**t. I don’t curse very often, so this not only has my attention, but also has my motivation.

I don’t care who is invested in this technology or what its intended purposes are; it must go away — forever. And here’s why: regardless of the measures taken to protect its core character, it is not being sufficiently safeguarded by its makers, such that they can guarantee it won’t be used against every single one of us by them or others. And if they did guarantee it, I’d call them out as liars; they can’t possibly know all the threats they’re creating with this technology. It’s just another example of human beings doing something because they can, without even stopping to think if they should.

Making technology for the sake of technology, just because you can, is irresponsible and shows poor judgment. Actually, it shows a complete lack of judgment. These guys have no concept of what they have. Or, perhaps even scarier, they really do know what they have and already have sold it.

Peter Feinstein is founder, president and CEO of Phoenix-based Higher Power Marketing. He can be reached at (888) 501-5544, via E-mail at pf@hpowermarketing.com or online at www.hpowermarketing.com.


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