Beware online social discrimination

In an afternoon keynote, Prof. Joseph Turow, of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, laid out a scenario where online users become increasingly anxious and disconcerted about the social stratification they find on the Web based on personalized offers and content some people receive and others don't. In other words, the split between those who are targeted and those deemed in industry parlance as 'waste' will become more apparent and lead to growing social divisions. Targeted ads and offers will increasingly become status symbols in the digital age, defining online reputations.

How to forestall this trend? Turow suggests the efforts to insure anonymity online like Do-Not-Track lists can be helpful but ultimately won't work as anonymity itself becomes meaningless online when the data from different sources from mobile phones to TV watching can be combined to pinpoint users. His recommendation is for companies to simply be more open about sharing about exactly the data they're collecting on people and giving them more control over it--what he called "information respect." "The payback will be worth it in veering away from the increasingly divisive, corrosive social media and marketing systems" operating behind the scenes, he said.

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