Prviacy e-nvasion

By Michael Leung

Get ready for an invasion of privacy, guerilla-style.

I recently received a glossy note in the mail from e-Trends, inviting me to join their exclusive market research group. It reads, "As a participant, you will represent thousands of other Canadians in cutting-edge market research." It requires me to go to their site, download their software, and leave it on while I browse the internet. Their software will then analyze my usage, including where I browse, the things I click on and even the pplications I use. It will even know that I’ve used Microsoft Word to type these very words.

I don’t know about you, but I hate these things. I’ve been using the internet for half my life, even before it was called the internet. As a good friend of mine put it, what was originally heralded as a community and a front for democracy has been for most people, degraded into an advertiser’s paradise.

As an added bonus, e-Trends uses several misleading arguments to sell itself to the unknowing consumer.

First off, they claim I become an empowered consumer by making my opinions count through participation. After visiting their site, curious as to how this plays out, I am first asked to supply very extensive demographic information. Beyond my home address, e-Trends would like to become my household friend, wondering if my brother uses a computer, if my mom is over 40 years old, or if I make $30,000 a year. The software is even configurable such that other family members can set up their own e-Trends accounts so that it can track their usage as well. I am not an empowered consumer in this situation, I am a usage statistic off of which e-Trends hopes to profit.

Second, e-Trends guarantees my privacy and confidentiality. By combining my data with thousands of other members (read: consumers) e-Trends "produce[s] reports for [their] clients." My individual information, they purport, is never shared. e-Trends seems to forget that my individual information has already been harvested, and, by supplying my demographic information in the first place, my confidentiality is already violated.

Finally, like some sort of consumer carrot-on-a-string e-Trends offers me a free "Quartz Swivel Desk Clock" and automatic entry into their monthly draws of cash and/or prizes. Once I fill out that form and install their software, I know I will likely receive absolutely nothing, and e-Trends will stand to profit from me.

These days, consumer information is the name of the game. This note surprised me in that it was so invasive–the information collection process and its purpose both blatantly obvious. It is already known that consumer information is collected through each piece of plastic you own and each little "Petro-points" card you have. This is only one facet of consumer culture, and I fear the real trends happening here will only become increasingly invasive. It is likely that dozens of different places have "accounts" with my name on them, all because I’ve filled out my form for a Safeway Club Card. Can you imagine the university selling its registration list to some company who wants to market to the 18-25 demographic?

Don’t be a passive consumer. Treasure your personal information. You can be vigilant by not supplying it if you don’t have to–someone else only makes money from it. If you have a fill out a form, don’t put in the correct information. If you do, you’ll likely receive junk mail from five different places anyway, junk mail and a quartz swivel desk clock.


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