For scores of years I guess it has gone unnoticed by politicos that media companies have used every imaginable device from surveys to diaries from eye tracking to phone calls from panels to mall intercepts to extract what is now being characterized as "private" information from their readers/listeners/viewers. The end goal? Improve their ability to tell advertisers who was seeing their messages. The more the advertisers learned, the more relevant became their messaging. People like and pay attention to ads that are pertinent. Everybody wins.
Apparently is it incomprehensible to certain congressional representatives that you don't need (or even want) personally identifiable information in order to get someone to respond to an ad. How many $ billions of ads are sold in the upfront market based fundamentally on gender, age range and approximate location?
But I guess data collected online is scarier than buying it from offline list aggregators and syndicators. I think there is the perception that we all hold hands in this industry and cooperate in pooling data to build ever more personal profiles. No, we work really hard to get better data than the next guy so advertisers will use us for targeting, rather than the other guy. Better data is not more personal data, it is fresher and more indicative of interest in potential purchases.
If you ever watched "24," you know that the feds listen in on our mobile phone calls and there are security cameras that record our every move in public. It only takes CTU about 4 seconds to find the 3D floor plans of every building in every city in America. And the NSA probably has the finest collection of rooftop topless sunbather photos on the planet. And we are supposed to lose sleep because someone might take the time and trouble to cross-reference search and navigation behavior and find out we live on Elm Street, have allergies and two dogs? I don't think so.
I understand the "nightmare" scenarios where a big media company with lots of personally identifiable offline subscription data combines it with what they see online and can deduce that I have some horrid illness or habit that I would prefer to keep hidden and somehow they choose to serve me an ad for a medicine that addresses one or the other or both and my kid sees it. Blah, blah, blah. From the moment I agreed to take my first credit card, I knew that there would be few secrets that couldn't be compromised by the cross match of card usage over an extended period of time. Watch what comes in and out of my mailbox for six months. You'll pick up the same general patterns. The offline data points about me and my family abound. I guess the online data points are scarier because, well, they allegedly are collected without me knowing about it. Like how many people know which companies traffic in their offline data? Banks? Card companies? Catalogues? Grocery stores? Insurance companies? Hell, for all I know, my doctor, the DMV and the local school system. At least when I am online, I assume I am being tracked -- and frankly, I don't care.