Internet redlining: How “personalization” is helping companies ignore “less-attractive” consumers

I’ve been making small noise about the division between the Rich and the Rest for a while (or in one case, the Rich and the Rubes). So far, I’ve applied this division to Rule of Law — one law for the Rich, another for the Rest; economic control; and electoral manipulation. But here’s a another area to which this division applies, the Internet — more particularly, the “personalized Internet experience.”

Scientific American (my emphasis):

The Rich See a Different Internet Than the Poor

Ninety-nine percent of us live on the wrong side of a one-way mirror

Imagine an Internet where unseen hands curate your entire experience. Where third parties predetermine the news, products and prices you see—even the people you meet. A world where you think you are making choices, but in reality, your options are narrowed and refined until you are left with merely the illusion of control.

This is not far from what is happening today. Thanks to technology that enables Google, Facebook and others to gather information about us and use it to tailor the user experience to our own personal tastes, habits and income, the Internet has become a different place for the rich and for the poor. Most of us have become unwitting actors in an unfolding drama about the tale of two Internets. There is yours and mine, theirs and ours.

Here’s how it works. Advertising currently drives the vast majority of the Internet industry by volume of revenue. Silicon Valley is excellent at founding and funding companies that give you free apps and then collect and sell your data when you use them. For most of the Internet’s short history, the primary goal of this data collection was classic product marketing: for example, advertisers might want to show me Nikes and my wife Manolo Blahniks. But increasingly, data collection is leapfrogging well beyond strict advertising and enabling insurance, medical and other companies to benefit from analyzing your personal, highly detailed “Big Data” record without your knowledge. Based on this analysis, these companies then make decisions about you—including whether you are even worth marketing to at all.

As a result, 99 percent of us live on the wrong side of a one-way mirror, in which the other 1 percent manipulates our experiences. Some laud this trend as “personalization”—which sounds innocuous and fun, evoking the notion that the ads we see might appear in our favorite color schemes. What we are talking about, however, is much deeper and significantly more consequential.

Note the phrase “your personal Big Data record.” Did you know you had one? Do you know how big is “Big”? For starters, it could be that every google search you’ve ever performed is in it, plus all the links you clicked in your search list. Pause and reflect.

The author details examples of this control from two areas. One is the marketing (or non-marketing) of credit products based on credit profiles of the recipient.

[A]s Natasha Singer recently reported in the New York Times, technical advances in mining online and offline data have made it possible to skirt the spirit of the law [forbidding discrimination in pricing access to credit based on personal data “signatures”]: companies can simply not make any offers to less credit-attractive populations. If you live on the wrong side of the digital tracks, you won’t even see a credit offer from leading lending institutions, and you won’t realize that loans are available to help you with your current personal or professional priorities.

The other area of Internet control he notes is the political, in which “the Internet shows us ‘what it thinks we want to see’ by serving up content that matches the hidden profiles created about us”. I expect by “the Internet” the author means “google” again. This point is less well supported — actually it’s simply asserted. Still, the point is certainly valid to some degree, and certainly valid when it comes to our “curated” Internet experience.

Just what is the internet?The Internet is not made of cats, it’s made of companies, especially Google Inc. — companies that are owned and run by your standard predator-billionaires. Left unconsidered in this article is the evil done by the google behind the scenes — how it manipulates ad markets to vacuum revenues into its maw and shape provider offerings — for example, blogs and as I understand it, increasingly media revenue as well — through the way it allocates or de-allocates revenue. For more on this, you should follow Jane Hamsher’s Bytegeist blog, and especially her coverage of the “Don’t be evil” company, Google Inc.

My prediction: Google’s slogan will win Best Orwell in the Early-21st Century division of the “Slogans to Conjure With” Contest. Hands down.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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