Monday, October 14, 2013

Field Jackets, Google, and Facebook

It has been a few weeks since I bought the Royal Robbins Billy Goat Bedford jacket and inherited the LL Bean field jacket.  I am enjoying both when the weather is cool enough to wear them.  I have two of them.  As I no longer need such a jacket, naturally I have stopped shopping for them.

Yet... every other day or maybe every other session of Facebook, I get an ad for LL Bean highlighting some version of the several field and barn coats they offer.  This is both cool and uncool.

Let's start with the cool perspective.  Facebook knows what I have been searching.  Rather than pester me with ads for items I will probably ignore, it is instead providing ads for things it believes I am actually in the market for.  If I am going to be subjected to ads, and that is not really a question, I am happy to get ads and offers for things I am interested in and might actually buy.  This is a win-win-win.  I win by seeing ads that will help me. If I click on the ad, both Facebook and the on-line retailer win.  This is technology working for me, Facebook, and the retailer.

From another point of view, the "how did they learn all this stuff about me" and "egads... big brother is watching perspective," this is scary stuff and totally intrusive.  Many of us do not want our shopping and interest profiles so available and so detailed that we getting personalized ads at every turn. This makes us feel like cattle and chattel.  We like to believe we are independent and unique.  This kind of profiling reminds us that we are not.  Personalized ads make us think we are being watched and we are being manipulated.  

This is clearly a glass half-full half-empty kind of thing.  When it helps us it is good.  When it surprises and irritates us, there are no limits to the kinds of language we use to express our discontent.  It raises many questions.  

First, all of my searching and shopping was done using google.  I went directly to the store sites e.g. REI, LL Bean, and Amazon where I finally made my purchase.  I did not access any of these companies via Facebook.  The question that came to my mind, was how then did Facebook know I was looking for a barn or field jacket?  Clearly, they are buying or sharing information with google or they have put some kind of tracking spyware cookie thing on my laptop and iPad to track my behavior.  The latter does, in fact, bother me as intrusive.  

People used to wonder how Facebook made money and was worth so much.  This is exactly how.  They have a lot of information about its members, users, or whatever it is we are called.  

A few family members have actually stopped using Facebook for this very reason.  They just do not want to feel manipulated.  They do not want to feel herded like cattle.  The do not want to feel like they are pawns to be manipulated by retailers hence the use of the word chattel.  

The second concern I had was perhaps more important.  I only noticed this after I bought my jacket.  I have had it for a few weeks and I am still getting ads on google.  Really?  Why?  If they are smart enough to know what I have searched and shopped for, why are they not smart enough to know that I already bought one. I did buy it on-line after all.  So... why am I still getting ads?  This is just irritating.  This is what made me notice this practice.  I might not have noticed the ads as much if I were still shopping.  I would have probably found them helpful.  Given, that I made a purchase already amplified the presence of these ads.  

I imagine technology will close this gap.  Soon, instead of offering me products that I have already bought, Facebook will become more sophisticated and offer me related or accessory products in the vein of "hey if you liked the Royal Robbins Billy Goat Bedford jacket... you will probably love these shoes (or shirt, pants, hat etc.) that are based on the same consumer attributes.  This would definitely increase the probability of more sales.

Maybe there oughta be a law.  People should be able register with some government agency to stop being stalked like I just realized I was.  It sounds good in principle but I am sure it will not work?  Why not?  I am simply using the Do Not Call List as a failed model.  I registered for the Do Not Call List.  It worked for awhile. Now, several years later, I am getting more calls than ever.   With no risk of punishment, such regulatory laws are not very effective.  

It does make me think twice about what to search for on-line.

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