I often day dream about the perfect future of pretty basic products. This often leads to some strange outcomes and random doodles but lately I have been thinking through the future of targeted advertising and I’m a little worried.
Don’t get me wrong my ideal future for being tracked around the internet, and also real life, is for it to be killed off. However there is clearly a future for them, so what is the logical best product they could produce. Simply speaking, the idea of this technology is to get so good it predicts products and services you need exactly when you need them. So presumably the apex product is one that every advert shown results in a sale.
“Ten, fifteen years from now the world will be nothing like what we remember, nothing much like what we experience now, we will be swimming in impulses and data—the microchip will make us offers that will be very hard to refuse. – Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age
The algorithm gets to a stage where it is so good, it can predict everything about you and the events of your life, that each advert pitched to you is perfect. This sounds both perfect and a nightmare, depending on your opinions on consumerism, but first consider that advertisers are recording your gullibility and also how much influence you may have over others. So if life is indeed heading for one filled full of impulses and data driven experiences, the data collected and targeted suggests something very wrong indeed.
So don’t be confused in thinking this is a future a long time from now, movement into this reality is going at a staggering pace. What’s the worst that could happen from this? We buy a few products that don’t turn out to be all the great and move on. Indeed a few lost pounds, or a bit of annoyance returning a product is one thing, but consider if it’s not a product you are selling at all. It could be an idea, or a political opinion being pushed instead of a pair of jeans.
That Facebook friend you hardly know who shared that fake news story? It may not be an accident of your friend’s gullibility; that friend could have been specifically targeted with a fake news story using personality and network information like that found in the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data breach. – Tom Hillhouse
This reality is happening right now, targeting adverts and also data brokers are allowing their systems to pitch ideas and beliefs to people, and you don’t have to delve too deep to realise how bad this could end. If these same algorithms and systems get so good they can sell you anything, including swaying your votes we are in real trouble.
So when people are perfectly fine with Google (and others) collecting all of their data because they don’t mind seeing better ads I shudder a little. This runs much deeper than buying more stuff, in the not too distant future it could be changing your beliefs.