Thursday, June 13, 2013

Who is studying my behavior?

I know many of my friends are on Facebook but I am not.  Maybe I should get on it again.  My wife says she has not been bothered by requests to use her contacts as targets for invitations.  I don't like getting junk email from people and I don't want to be responsible for any being sent, if I can help it.  I know the situation is complicated. 

Just yesterday, I saw a comment in The Onion, the satirical newspaper that was started in Madison, WI.  The headline said a man was outraged that somebody like the National Security Agency or the CIA was collecting data on him and not just commercial interests.  I used to set my browser so that cookies were accepted but deleted when I closed it.  Lately, I have been accepting a few more of the little bits of code that were invented to allow me to get into and out of sites faster and with less signing in but have developed into a big commercial deal.  Companies like to track what they can of what I buy and what sites I visit, hoping to improve the rate at which I accept offers to buy this or that.

I know for a fact that I have bought books that Amazon suggested to me.  I have no good idea of how often that has happened but I definitely benefit from Amazon's suggestions.  I saw on tv where stat analysis (this is supposed to be the emerging age of 'big data') had found an odd combination of sales occurring together, something like people who bought book X and this sort of shoes tended to also buy a certain candy.  So, human operators on phones were instructed to inquire when taking orders for those books and shoes to ask whether that candy would be of interest.  Often, they got a surprised response of "Why, yes, I would like some of that candy."

It is only possible to be tracked if I am connected to the internet but being connected is so valuable that even when some of the tracking and subsequent offers are bothersome, I usually prefer to be connected.  

I have read that a saying among programmers and inventors over the last 20 years has been "automate the tools, not the work".  I think that means that greater reports of acceptance and of pleasure have resulted from an automatic hammer than from having a robot that does all my nailing for me. I am confident that varying circumstances would make various possibilities attractive or not, depending on my purposes. Usually, I like to have options and control over them.

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