Whether we like it or not, advertising is a fact of life. It is also the business model of the Internet. Whoever thinks that Facebook, Instagram, or Google provide such cool services really for nothing is simply naïve. We pay for many Internet services with our data, which have value because sellers are convinced they can use this data to find customers. The more you know about your customer, the better the chances you can provide them with information that is relevant and interesting for them. Assuming people are not as easily manipulable as MadMen and critical theorists seem to think, advertising doesn’t “make” anyone buy anything. It provides information about what one can buy. When someone is not interested in the information, or the information is not relevant, advertising dollars are wasted. This is why personalized advertising based on the collection, aggregation, analysis, and brokering of personal data is big business. Personalized advertising promises to provide people with interesting and relevant information on products and services, and as a byproduct, to spare them the useless information they are constantly being bombarded with by dumb, mass advertising.
Anyone socialized in a capitalist world has his or her our own spam filter built into their cognitive apparatus. These filter out most of the informational junk that dumb advertising constantly dumps on us. Personalized advertising and personalized services of all kinds, for example, in education, healthcare, government, etc. apply the same principles guiding our own spam filters; they know what we want, what we are interested in, what we are willing to pay for, etc. Indeed, they often know more than we do about ourselves. This is because they have access to more information then we can consciously keep track of. We have at any time a relatively limited amount of knowledge about ourselves. We forget a lot of things. They have big data, and they don’t forget. While some are currently fighting in the courts for the “right to forget,” the quick (velocity) collection, aggregation, reuse, repurposing, recombining, and reanalyzing of very large (volume), very different (variety) data sets is only beginning to appear upon the radar screens of regulators. This may be because everybody, it would seem, wants to do it and hopes in one way or another to profit from it. Business, government, education, healthcare, science, etc., all are jumping on the big data bandwagon. All can profit from knowing more, indeed, knowing everything, about their “customers.” The question is, what do the customers get out of it?