Friday, May 5, 2006

Attention stolen by invasive advertising

20060305_iphoto_digital_1Important ethical issues are surfacing in many areas of contemporary life as a result of the practical implications of the growing deployment of information technologies. While I certainly feel excited about all the amazing things that can be achieved thanks to infotech in the Information Age, I also believe all citizens have an individual responsibility that cannot be delegated to decide consciously what they are willing to allow.

I came across a very interesting article providing several practical examples of an individual's experience in a world of intensive usage of infotech for advertising purposes. The article tells the story of a 40 year old lady called Marie, who would ceasselesly be prompted by "intelligent" and interactive advertising systems while simply wandering in the street. From messages pushed on her mobile to customized ads generated by a system that would identify her as Marie, the story seems apocalyptic to me. In a world of abundance of content, where each one of us deals with a
surplus of information of questionable quality, these advertising
practiceswould be tantamount to stealing attention unbeknownst to people. I believe this is not a good business practice and not a desirable phenomenon to have in the Information
Age; I would like the next generation to have a choice about the degree
of privacy individual persons will want in their lives. It is a matter
of choice for individuals. Actually perhaps for the first time in history the expression "paying attention" is so true... perhaps attention is money. That is one of the reasons why I also became
very interested in AttentionTrust over the past few weeks; a friend
told me about the initiative and yesterday I decided to register as a
supporter and to comply with its principles.

Here's a link to the story of Marie (in French):

In fact, this story reminds me of stuff we were taught at my Business School about marketing, regulations and ethical aspects; we were told about the respect of private life, the customer's right to refuse any and all advertising content, the ban on subliminal advertising and many other points regarding the delicate balance between free choice and marketing manipulation. And I think that the lessons from the fiasco of tobacco advertising should also be taken both in terms of the negative impact of ads that invited people to start smoking

The article also reminded me of the world depicted by David Brin in Earth a great book I mentioned a couple of months ago. A world in which privacy would no longer be possible unless one would decide to buy it from companies specializing in shielding people from the intrusions of advertising and other eavesdropping methods. It sends chills down my spine...

Hence my question: what can a citizen and a business professional like me do today to help avert this Minority Report-like nightmare?

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