What Does the Internet Know About You?
I hopped online last night to do some shopping and plugged in “Urban Outfitters” into the Google search bar. Unsurprisingly, the link to the Urban Outfitters website popped up as the first result on the list. It makes sense, right? You want to find something, so you go online, plug it into your search engine, and there it is! It seems so simple, but in reality it’s not. Have you ever wondered how Google knows which results are most likely to satisfy you? Why it is able to produce those results with such frequency and accuracy? I had honestly never given it a thought. Until now.
The internet knows us. The search engines know us. They probably know things about our friends and families that we don’t. In fact, they probably know things about our tendencies and preferences that we don’t even consciously know about ourselves. And they get all of this information directly from us. Each time we submit a search in a search engine, our actions are closely monitored. What link do we pick? Do we stay on the page? If yes, for how long? If no, why? And which link do we select next? All of this information is noticed, processed, and cached for later use. The same goes for every time we “like” a page on Facebook, “pin” a recipe on Pinterest, or “hashtag” an image on Instagram. Given that 56% of American adults are now smartphone users, and that 85% are internet users, this information is flowing in constantly, in massive quantities. And all of it is being used to profile each of us as a market consumer.
Slightly creepy? 1984 much? I would say so, yes. And yet, it undoubtedly makes our lives easier. The internet of today has replaced the phone books of old. While the yellow pages of a phone book would have been well-worn with usage perhaps a decade ago, according to a Burke 2011 report, 76% of adult consumers have used the internet within the last year to find a local business. Having our lives splayed all over the internet may seem invasive, but with how dependent our society now is on search engines, it may also be a necessary evil. Keep in mind as well of course, that when we sign up for Facebook and other such social media websites, we are giving them permission to use our information in virtually any manner they please.
So be aware of the fact that everything you do online is being used. That you are constantly being marketed to with ads designed specifically to target you. And that without the monitoring, our ability to search the web and get the results we want would be severely diminished. Basically, it’s a trade off: privacy vs. convenience. Certainly there are arguments for either side. Personally, I’m of the mindset that we are responsible for what we do online. Knowing that what we are viewing is not being viewed by our eyes only, what information we choose to give away about ourselves is entirely up to us. Seems to me a fairly small price to pay for the ease and accessibility provided in return.
That of course is solely my opinion….What do you think?