Intellectually I understand that we have essentially surrendered our privacy rights in exchange for the cool stuff we get online, however a couple of examples have crossed my digital world recently which illustrate just how pervasive this is becoming. The first happened a couple of days back when I booked a favorite local restaurant for six people at 7pm. At about 6 that evening my iphone coughed politely and a message came up on the home screen to the effect that in current traffic it will take 18 minutes to get to the restaurant so be sure to leave by 6.40 to get there on time. What’s impressive is that I didn’t interact with Google at all in the booking process and set no alarms or reminders. I had booked through Open Table and received the usual email confirmation…which was read by Google (I never opened it) who figured out where both the restaurant and I were and given traffic how long the journey would take. That’s awfully impressive….a bit creepy but still impressive.
What is slightly more creepy is that we are planning a trip to London and Paris in a few weeks. My lovely wife and I booked the travel and hotels through my Orbitz account, we booked separate components through the same account but from different laptops. The confirmation emails went to my email address only. What’s impressive is that we are now both being bombarded with hotel offers for Paris on our separate email and Facebook accounts. Neither of us have mentioned anything about this trip on Facebook at all. Clearly what’s happening is a sophisticated combination cookie delivery and cross platform retargeting. The fact that we didn’t use Google to search for any travel components makes it even more impressive. Should this level of passive tracking and targeting bother us?…probably not, it’s something between neat and weird but (in my mind anyway) not actually invasive. The utility afforded by the fact that Google (your virtual butler) will let you know when to leave for the airport and even have your boarding pass ready without you asking is undeniably cool…but at least for now I don’t think I want to ride to the airport in one of their self driving cars.