The other day I was talking with a friend and mentioned that I had been getting Facebook ads for some of the survival gear I had mentioned last time we went for a hike. I also noted that I had never searched for this online, and had only stopped briefly on a shelf carrying this particular product at Cabela’s. The instant reaction I got was the typical, “you’re being paranoid.” I almost forget sometimes that not everyone is aware of how insanely prevalent and invasive tracking is, and I’m not talking about the work done by NSA.
Sure enough, a quick search revealed that Cabela’s is one of the many stores that’s been using in-store tracking. And it’s nothing new to them. They’ve been using it for almost 3 years now. While you might think its just general information about if you’ve visited or not, the information is actually so specific they can tell what products you’ve stopped for a moment to look at.
Of course I know this all sounds crazy. Who would invest that much time and effort into knowing where you stop in a store? For all they know you could just be checking the time when you stop walking! Right? Well, they actually know because they are filming you, or more specifically, using face recognition software to map your expressions and track eye movement. That’s how they know exactly what you’re doing, how long you’re doing it, and most importantly, why they think you’re doing it.
Ad companies are getting extremely wealthy from doing this hence the subject matter being the focus of the recent season of south park. If you want a great example of this just take Facebook. The ENTIRE value of their company is in selling you stuff. They made their billions by connecting your personal information to ads. If you want to see for yourself how detailed the profiles they keep are sign up for an advertising account with Facebook and check out the filters they offer. You can filter right down to “people who spend a lot of money online shopping.” It’s not like Facebook has a storefront where they can directly get that information. They get it from partners that sell their data on you as a service. It’s what rewards programs like Plenti are about! (Or really any rewards program you use…feel free to fuck with the data by sharing your rewards cards with multiple people.)
The recent Vice interview of Pirate Bay Founder, Peter Sunde isn’t far off. He mentioned that the open internet is a lost cause, and to some extent it is. Too many people are making too much money from selling you and it’s gone from passive tracking and data collection to active tracking and data collection with little to no resistance as we all get up-in-arms about issues that matter much less in our day-to-day lives.