Commentary by Terry Anker
Has the World Wide Web become all too clever at profiling us? With each missive entered on our trusty search engine, the algorithms noting our interests and inquiries become more adroit at delivering products that are, or ought to be, for us. Like a somewhat cloudy mirror, it reflects a hazy, if roughly accurate, countenance. But can we expect the internet to give us legitimate insight to ourselves?
As we are provoked by the banner ads that accompany our electronic morning papers, we come to note the customized nature of the wares – how the web merchants see us. “You enjoy shoes.” “You like to travel.” “You will spend too much to get a unique bourbon!” They size us up from safe distance with remarkable accuracy. Generally, we relish the personal shopper that delivers goods and services that correspond to our desires, needs and wishes.
But then, there are the parts of our would-be internet outline that are a bit more jarring. Who has decided that we might have need for vitamins aimed at the over 50 set or family-sized minivans to replace our sporty coupes? Do they know something about us that we don’t? And if so, who told them? Perhaps more importantly, where do they get off telling us – plus, with whom else are they speaking?
At the end of the day, the marketers are providing us with a decent value-add. We are introduced to all manner of product, place, and person that might enhance or enrich our lives. Is the sacrifice of privacy worth it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Yet, Pandora has been released from her box and it is unlikely that our web anonymity will soon return. So for now, I’m searching for things only hoping to convince my net-profiler that I’m cooler than he thinks!