Be mindful what you search!
If you have followed my blogs, you probably have read my posts on Net Neutrality here and here. Put simply, I am a proponent of Net Neutrality and of the opinion that the market has to shape its business models around this concept, not by violating it.
At the same time, I have also argued heavily against people I call privacy-freaks, who in my opinion have been exaggerating the effects of privacy invasion by companies that use personally non-identifiable data. In simple terms, if I got an email from my friend saying he has got his mortgage approved and gmail put mortgage related ads along sidebar, I was okay with it. Or when the search engine customized the results of my search depending upon which city I was in on that given day. I was okay with Google customizing my experience, as long as it does not fundamentally manipulate the experience or use my data for something without my permission.
But something happened today — the reason for my writing this post — that quite frankly shocked me.
Sometime ago, I was browsing for premium credit cards and came across a credit card that is offered only by invitation and for a heavy premium. I got curious and read more about it. End of story. Two to three weeks later, guess what happened — today I got a snail-mail invite for the exact same card I was reading about.
You could argue that this is mere coincidence and if it is so, I am okay with it. But the circumstances tell me my search information were mapped to my Google account, which is also mapped to a number of applications that legitimately have access to my personal information (Checkout, Maps, Latitude etc…) as well as have indirect access (Search, Mail etc…). I consider myself a power-user, so chances that this information was just lying around is remote to none.
If I have to extrapolate what this could do to you — if you search for jobs on monster.com or for hacking tools, your employer could get a notification. If you search for cure for a specific disease, your healthcare plan could get a notification. Or — for humor — if you visit a porn site by accident or by intent — your spouse could get an email notification.
With FTC still toying around with data privacy concept, this makes me worry and should make you worry too.