My job centers on delivering audio and video to people through the Web, and like many many other Web companies right now we’re looking at how to best recommend or suggest content to those people. Amazon has perfected this model in a way that doesn’t freak customers out too much (I still get a little weirded out that Amazon suggests things that I’m genuinely interested in, and I’m more involved with this technology than the average consumer). On the Web it’s called a “recommendation engine”, an algorithm that analyzes my clicks, paths through a site, transactions, etc. and maps them against those of consumers who exhibit similar behaviors. Off the Web there is no formal recommendation engine, and any “algorithm” or entity that tracks your movements gets the “big brother” tag, a generally negative connotation to totalitarian behaviors that attempt to control what you think and do.
Why I’m thinking about this: here’s an article about a Dutch restaurant that will be tracking its diners with small cameras. Diners have to sign a consent form to agree to being watched while eating there.
Half of me, via my experience in Web companies, thinks of recommendation engines as helpful and altruistic, and the other half of me, via my lifelong experience as a wary consumer, thinks having people track my movements in order to recommend products to me is freaky and a violation of my privacy. Sometimes it sucks to not only see both sides, but to be personally conflicted by them.