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Ken Magill

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It's Not Convenience; It's Victimization

By Ken Magill
Only the online privacy movement could look at a digital revolution in convenience and customer service and see victimization.
In privacy bizarro-land, no one makes their own purchasing decisions.
Buying decisions are made at digital gunpoint. And the gun is invisible. We don’t even know it’s there.
But it’s there alright—pulling millions of little digital triggers in our mushy heads, forcing us to make decisions detrimental to our own wellbeing.
Case in point: The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group recently submitted a report to the Federal Trade Commission outlining what they view as the apparent pitfalls of so-called “big-data” marketing.
In short, big data and the rise of mobile commerce may enable marketers to force more people to make bad financial decisions.
For example, on the increasing ability to shop on credit using mobile devices:
“Will already vulnerable consumers shopping for their children during the holidays have the time or inclination to see how much interest will be charged, or the terms of service concerning data collection, by reviewing the digital fine print displayed on their mobile phone’s small screen? Moreover, as data profiling drives such personalized credit offers in real time (buttressed with the increased dimension of local information), and as advertisers deliberately use messaging that triggers emotions rather than reason, will a consumer be capable of making the wisest decision?”
How is this any different than using a credit card, prepaid or otherwise? Moreover, since when have advertisers not used messaging that triggers emotions rather than reason? Advertising has always been about emotion—specifically fear and greed.
Then there’s the following gem on mobile shopping:
“How the data-driven shopping process ultimately influences consumers is still an open question. On the one hand, the Internet mobile phone allows consumers to check and compare prices more easily—what’s now called ‘showrooming.’ Armed with more information or competitive offers, there’s a good chance that a reasonable buying decision will be made. But there is also a very real risk that an individual’s ability to have the time and ability to make reasonable consumer decisions will be influenced—if not overwhelmed—by the powerful combination of marketing forces at work. Financially strapped and sensitive consumers could be harmed by these developments, if they are unfairly targeted for products they may not require or at prices they cannot afford or are higher than the prices offered others. There are consequences beyond busting the family budget as well, including to their health, as quick-service restaurants, food and beverage marketers, and even drug companies embrace the new digital model for marketing.”
Folks, these are the kinds of people who campaign to have the toys removed from Happy Meals. As is always the case with the privacy movement—not usually, always—the report fails to cite a single case of actual harm.
People have fingertip access to more information on their phones today than was available to any previous generation. If they’re getting a bad deal, one quick Google search can tell them almost instantly.
If they’re not willing or too lazy to use that power, shame on them.
No one has a gun to anyone’s head. These are voluntary value-for-value transactions.
An entire marketplace should not be hamstrung because of a minority who make bad decisions.
If payday loans and the like are the problem, outlaw them, not the collection and sale of marketing data that allows them and other products and services to be offered more efficiently.
Privacy zealots are blaming digital marketers for bad decisions that may be made by some people who lack self control. They’re blaming digital marketers for honing their craft.
What kind of profession is taken to task when its practitioners improve their skills? 
Only one the irrational opposition sees as a net-negative on society. Never forget that.

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