Imagine if your neighbor asks to borrow your lawn mower and promises to return it tomorrow. You agree, but tomorrow comes and your lawn mower hasn’t been returned. You agreed to a transaction, but the transaction changed. You ask your neighbor and they say they didn’t have time to mow the lawn, but it’ll happen today for sure and you’ll have it right back. It doesn’t happen today, you don’t get it back. The next day your neighbor says they lent your lawn mower to a friend because theirs broke and he just felt too bad for them. The day after that, you’re relieved to see your neighbor out mowing the lawn. Except right then, a photographer walking by says your neighbor has that certain je ne sais quoi, and she wants to shoot him and his mower for an ad campaign. He agrees without so much as a glance in your direction.
You agreed to lend your lawn mower to your neighbor for a day. Now it’s part of a photography project and you have no idea when you’ll get it back.
This bad neighbor we all have is Facebook, Google, Twitter, and every other company that wants to track, package, and sell us to advertisers and anyone else buying. Now, brick and mortar retailers want in on the practice, too.
Advertising isn’t the problem, it powers a massive portion of our economy and truly can be useful. The problem may seem staggeringly complex, but it is quite simply the devaluing, erosion, and ultimately deliberate dismissal of our trust in the unmitigated pursuit of more.
We agreed to hand over bits of information A, B, and C to these companies in exchange for X, Y, and Z. But over the years these companies decided they could do a little more, and then a little more, so they started using that information for L, M, N, O, P, and Q. Twitter didn’t follow you around the web or the real world for years. Now it does, just like Facebook and Google. Last month, Facebook started selling our information to power ads on sites across the entire internet. It’s also quite honest about the fact it’s working on offering our faces to be used in advertisements (Settings > Ads > Third Party Sites).
After Facebook starts offering your face to advertisers, why not status updates? Google already lets advertisers target competitor’s YouTube videos with pre-roll ads. Why not let them send ads directly to your phone when you’re about to walk into a competitor’s establishment? Twitter could passively listen to your living room conversations and notify advertisers of positive product sentiments and intent to buy. Privately, of course.
Why not? “It’s just the natural next step.” The transaction has repeatedly and radically changed. It will change again and again and again because these companies cannot and will not stop. Their DNA won’t let them.
[photo courtesy of epsos.de]