Internet Privacy Noise

A number of new companies have sprung up for the specific purpose of further destroying internet privacy filter and putting the most tempting ad offerings in front of you when you surf the web (see next blog). This is bad enough when applied to adults, but almost criminal when applied to children. 

In effect, these businesses are like the snack and drink displays in supermarket checkout lanes, which force your kids to stand with you for 5 to 10 minutes, staring at the Snickers and the Cokes, and beg you in their best cute (or whiny) voices. But these ads are even more insidious for two reasons: first, through the destruction of internet privacy these ads are targeted to your child’s specific preferences, not to some generic child in the supermarket; and second, the merchandise is usually much more expensive than the stuff on display at the cash register.  

One of the inescapable truths about children is that they have low impulse control and limited ability to manage their desire for getting more stuff. This is well known and well exploited (if you doubt it, watch SpongeBob Squarepants with your child and pay attention to the advertising). But, due to the limitations of television, it is not nearly as bad as it could be because the ads can’t target your kid’s unique desires. 

Imagine your son sitting in front of the Saturday morning cartoons. In the course of the morning, he is bombarded with advertising for toy cars, superheroes, and Pop-Tarts. Maybe he really responds to cars, while the other items are interesting but not that attractive. Maybe 20 -30% of TV advertising will hit your child’s ‘sweet spot’. 

With the new media and assault on internet privacy, marketing will be increasingly specific both in terms of product and message, and your child’s browsing history will enable the customization. Once your kid starts surfing and follows the ‘car’ trail, the advertisements will all be ‘car’ related.

Once he shows a preference for red cars, the next set of advertisements will show red cars only. Maybe he’ll show a marked preference for ads related to racing as opposed to car chases, and the ads will be further refined. In the end, your child will be presented with a series of advertisements he can no more resist than a crack addict can resist a ‘hit.’

If you and your son share a computer and a log-in, your browsing history and his will be combined to establish a very good idea about what to present to him, to make it something that he may realistically ask for. If your browsing history indicates a family income in the $20,000 range, he will get a different set of options than if your income range is in the $100,000 range. 

Your browsing history will enable the advertisers to make all these decisions, and you will pay the price of lost internet privacy in the form of whining and begging. 

You might think that this sort of thing could be limited through the legal system because it sounds an awful lot like exploitation of a child (or, indeed, of a family), but it can’t and it won’t. No Supreme Court is going to infringe on Fisher-Price’s right to push Chinese-made garbage at your child — that much, at least, is clear.