Isn’t it cool that all of our technology knows us and our location? It’s a widening and wonderful tech world isn’t it? We are blessed with video and the web on our smart phones; social connections all around are endorsing and Linking us In. Best of all we can speak and ask our device stupid questions -- and get specific and even charming location-based answers. Siri, tell me,what is Pi to 500 places? That was easy, but how many miles (kilometers, inches) is it to Miami? How long will it take if I’m walking from where I am standing in Washington, DC? Unlike Trivial Pursuit -- where knowing the answer matters -- with our fabulous devices all you need is the question. And because your phone is on, your starting point is wherever you are RIGHT NOW.
The revenue potential of us seems to be well understood. With all of this Exacto knife accuracy, advertisers have gradually become happier in recent years about the boatload of billions they spend on digital ads, ever more significant as revenue from print media declines precipitously. Advertisers are enthralled by the use of embedded browser cookies as a way of reminding viewers of relevant products that could be bought while you’re scanning an article in Forbes – or battle your way to reading the online ever-cagier New York Times. As the space allotted for the actual article shrinks into fewer square inches, this noise is now so much a part of mobile and online life that we tune it out -- unless, as with navigating to a location or needing a service, we tune it in.
But in the flash of a Google staffer free lunch meeting, all that may change. Since Google accounts for a third of all worldwide ad revenue, when they hint about change, the world listens. And they are apparently contemplating replacing browser cookies with their own AdID: "The new tool will give users the ability to limit ad tracking through browser settings, according to the person familiar with the plan." Terrorizing the web advertising world, no doubt, this change may also be a response to legal actions hither and yon about invasion of your privacy and safety. Google’s intentions are pure, of course, and says Google, they care about "keeping the Web economically viable." Certainly. Just as the great and faceless audience out there – we the people -- must be able to see ads that our online and mobile behavior indicates to advertisers that we should see. You can drive, but today you cannot even hide behind a geofence (specific zip code area or region). If you visit business-traveler hotels often, you may be shown traveler ads that are independent of your location, even if you’re on vacation. We (Google, Facebook, etc.) know who you are. And most important, devices and software you use will deliver content to you that will make advertisers believe that we really do know who you are.
This well-tracked online life is making us justifiably nervous. Pew’s recent report surveyed the topic of online anonymity and privacy – and it is a wake-up call for those of us who want to see 100% of the older population go online, use tablets and smartphones. Covering our attitudes towards and experiences losing our personal information, 21% of responders had an email or social media account hijacked, and 11% has had vital information stolen – bank account, social security number, credit card numbers. Fifty percent of responders are worried about the amount of information about them that is available online, and although it is clearly too late, 86% of surveyed users are taking steps to do a better job at hiding their digital tracks. While 38% are worried about hackers or criminals, 28% worry about advertisers knowing too much about them.
We are all Digital immigrants to the newest tech lands. It's a decade-old assumption that we take for granted. We believe that the young are Digital natives and that boomers and beyond are Digital immigrants. So goes the blah-blah-blah variant: Younger people adapt quickly to new tech, so the older population must be encouraged because they are strangers in a strange land of tech. But this is nonsense. The pace of arbitrary, unannounced, poorly tested tech change has turned everyone into Digital immigrants requiring training on the next new thing. The Digital natives may be those that design, launch or resell – but even then, the dialect they speak is for their own product, or specific to the products they have been trained to use. A colleague recently described her experience in a phone store listening to a sales rep 'explain' something to her – to which she replied: "You know, I didn’t understand a single word that you just said." When the Gmail interface abruptly overhauled itself, when the LinkedIn endorsements suddenly surfaced, or more recently, when the Apple iOS 7 upgrade offered a new and imperfect experience, it’s a reminder that a new paradigm has again shifted us back to zero. Changing how our online behavior is being tracked will be another shift. True it creates a new and destabilizing dialect for advertisers, but for safety’s sake, those that want to get 100% of seniors online and on new devices must understand and continuously train on their appropriate use.