Anonymous

Whatever happened to privacy?

During the initial days of the internet, anonymity was all the rage. A favorite cartoon pictured two Basset Hounds typing away on their PCs. The caption read, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” How quaint those days seem. Today reputations get destroyed by “private” online chats.

Now the internet is helping retailers market to us. Our banks know our real spending patterns: where and when we buy our morning Joe; where we shop for clothes; what we do for recreation. They’re discovering the joys of data mining. When they get together with merchants, it makes a powerful combination.

There’s an “opt-in” program where consumers can choose to receive targeted text coupons on their cell phones. Here’s how it works: the bank knows you buy a cup of coffee at 8 or so every morning. So around 7:45 you get a text message offering you a free pastry at the Starbucks just across the street. The banks don’t tell Starbucks your purchase patterns; they just sell your name as a good prospect for a promotional ad, kind of like Groupon.

There’s a creep-out factor to all this. It used to be only celebrities had paparazzi record their every move. Now I have to worry that if I get impatient today at the DMV a video will be posted tonight on YouTube. And tomorrow I’ll get discount coupons for anger management classes.

Makes you long for the good-old-days of Netscape and Friendster.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Hit reply if you have any questions—I read them all!

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