You are being watched… but is it really a bad thing?

About 13 million of us now own a Tesco Clubcard, indicating that we are happy for every egg, toothbrush and loo roll we buy to be logged by the supermarket.

Of course the rewards are obvious. Every three months an envelope full of discounts and vouchers magically targeted to your tastes drops through the letterbox and your next till receipt shows in black and white just how much you have benefited from this data collection.

On the web however, there’s no loyalty card sign-up but still your surfing and online shopping habits are being collected. A recent report, carried out by comScore on behalf of the New York Times found that Yahoo! alone collect data 2,520 times a month on each visitor, on average.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, The Fox network which includes popular social networking site MySpace and the Time Warner network including AOL are also big data collectors. Every time you enter a search term, buy a product or watch a video, your choices are being collated and analysed somewhere.  The question is, is it really a bad thing?

Generally, on the web, we can at least enjoy a bit of anonymity. Unless you are registered with a site and logged in at the time, your habits are only recorded against a number and not your name. The boffins at Google aren’t all wondering why Joe Bloggs from Cheltenham is still single after six months of surfing the online dating agencies.

The main benefit though is that you might actually find your online experience improved by all this. Like any bricks and mortar business, these online companies want to make money and their best chance is by selling you exactly what you’re looking for. By analysing your search terms and shopping habits, they’re much more likely to be able to pop an ad in front of you for a product or service that you actually need, want and can afford. With the amount of useless information we’re bombarded with online, that’s got to be a plus.

Posted on 11/04/2008
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