There’s an interesting discussion on one of the boards to which I subscribe. It has to do with whether people like “liking” on Facebook, and it got me thinking. As you know, I use FB as part of my marketing strategy, as do almost all the businesses I know. I also have started to use Pinterest – it’s great for showing new patterns and which fabrics I like with them. And of course, I use my blog for (among other things) propelling my business interests. I’m not cynical about it. I don’t twirl my mustache every time I do a post or posting, thinking “Ha ha ha! If I put this up, I’ll sell more!” But I do use all the tools available to me.
What I try very hard not to do is to invade people’s privacy or use their work without express permission. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far. But the plain fact is that, these days, it’s very hard for any of us to keep our private selves private. When I worked in high tech, back in 1999 to be exact, I was at a meeting where Scott McNeally, then-CEO of Sun Microsystems, gave a keynote speech. During the Q&A session, someone asked him to address privacy concerns over the internet. His response, and mind you this was 1999, was, “If you think you have any privacy on the internet, you’re smoking dope. There’s no privacy once you go on line. None.”
In 2002, I was working with the head of merchandising for Loehmann’s, a discount retailer. We were working on integrating the supply chain back-end with the retailing front end. During our discussions, she said to me, “The morning after you place an order or buy something at our stores, I know everything about you, from your birthdate to your salary to your political preferences and what kind of baby food you feed your kids.” And this was at the dawn of the data-mining boom, before internet retailing as we now know it had taken off. Nowadays, there are all sorts of programs that track what you do and where you go on the web. One day my sister asked me to take a look at a headboard she was considering buying. I checked it out on a website. Now whenever I open up Tom & Lorenzo, at the top of the page I see ads for furniture, because these tracker programs see that I was on that site, and they show me similar ads. My husband was the lead developer for the websites for the second largest cosmetics company in the world. To this day, he gets ads for makeup and skin care, thanks to the trackers. Take a look at the ads you see on blogs and other websites that use Google advertising or similar. I bet dollars to doughnuts that you’ll notice that the ads you see are for products and services similar to those you have bought or looked at before. The Wall Street Journal has an ongoing series called “What They Know” about surveillance and privacy on the Internet. It’s worth reading. One thing they point out is that, with the mobile boom, you have even less privacy. Checking in using Foursquare? Every merchant within a mile gets a ping saying that you are nearby along with information about your interests so they can send you messages telling you about offerings that might be of interest. Targeted marketing, it’s called. That’s mild compared to some apps.
To get around all that, you can forego the cell phone, unhook from the internet, shred your credit cards and use cash for every purchase you make. That’s a little extreme for me. Personally, I don’t mind giving my information to merchants and sites I trust. I never share my customers’ information with anyone, ever (there are a few companies that don’t like me because of that), and most companies that I do business with have the same policy. But I do have a Facebook account, which I opened keeping in mind the maxim that, “If you’re not paying for it, then you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” I can’t remember who said that, but boy is it ever true. And it’s something to keep in the back of your mind when dealing with sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ and all the rest.
Well, that’s enough navel gazing for today.