big brother watching

The Advantages of Being Tracked

Every day it seems like Facebook has found a new way to collect data about its users, but it’s not the only one doing this.  In fact, 50% of the most popular websites use cookies to collect personal information.

If you’ve searched using Google lately, the information was captured and will be stored for 18 months. And anytime you make a purchase online – whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a smartphone app – your information is headed off to some company somewhere, probably many.

Now companies are even tracking our shopping behavior at brick-and-mortar stores using our cell phones.

Knowing this gets a lot of people upset. The word “privacy” gets thrown around. There’s talk of “Big Brother” watching. Maybe it makes me strange, but I just don’t get it.

I consider myself a fairly private person. You won’t find me posting about personal issues on my Facebook page, and I’m that person who immediately puts in headphones if you sit next to me on a plane. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not big on socializing with strangers. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather finish reading The Book Thief.

But when it comes to privacy, I’m not at all concerned about some computer program learning that my music taste is stuck in the late 90s, or some advertising firm categorizing me based on my age, income level, and family size.

After all, we’ve been watched and analyzed for a while now, right? If you take a walk in an average big city, it’s likely you’ll be recorded by a camera a whopping 75 times a day. And marketing companies used to figure out who you are the old-fashioned way – based on where you live and by conducting surveys. Now they’re simply more efficient. They have access to information about millions of people that’s much more accurate and always getting updated.

And I think that’s awesome. It means that when I visit a website they can draw my attention to stories that might interest me right away, and if I get distracted while buying a new toy for my son, I’ll get an email the next day checking in to see if I still want it, maybe even with a discount to encourage the purchase.  And more accurate ads attract higher rates, allowing me to read higher quality content for free on websites I enjoy.

What’s not to love about that?

One of the unfortunate consequences of the modern world is that there’s more and more expected of us. We’re monitoring more communication, staying in touch with more people, and handling more work.

How do we keep up with it all? Everything has become more efficient. Work that used to take one person 40 hours a week has now been automated to be done at the touch of a button. You no longer have to make a weekly phone call to find out how your Aunt Polly is doing; you can just check in with her Twitter account now and then.  And you can respond to 20 emails much faster than you can respond to 20 voicemails.

To me, online tracking helps to make “fun” things more efficient. Stores, online publications, and advertising companies can more accurately gauge what I might want, allowing me to make better use of those precious spare moments I have between raising my family and running a business.

Maybe I’d be more concerned about the information being gathered about my internet activities if I was a politician or hiding an affair. And I understand that abuses have occurred and will again. But as an average citizen whose internet activity isn’t too exciting, I’m okay with having a few digital “spies” in order to better enjoy my web experience.

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