Smart Mobs is an amazing book. Though I read pieces of it two seasons ago, the words and metaphors hold new meaning in light of my recent research. It is incredible to me that in 2002 Howard Rheingold could predict the future so accurately.
In the first section Howard talks about privacy and virtual identities. This got me thinking about a new technology we are using here at the University of Texas and some other recently widespread services.
The deal is, Mobile Campus finds businesses local to UT who want to advertise to students via their mobile phone. To facilitate their growth, they pay our Student Government one dollar per signup and give them other perks, such as paying for the redesign of the SG website (these details are accurate to the best of my knowledge). SG then push MC on the student body (especially freshman) as the official student discount program, replacing those little coupon books.
Yeah, it’s cool that SG gets some extra money, etcetera, but is the trade off really worth it? Itâ€™s a game of ratios and reach. The database Mobile Campus is creating is worth far more than anything they are giving SG. If MC could they wouldnâ€™t give SG a cent (a better business model), but without them a corporation would never have the kind of reach that SG can provide.
These kinds of tradeoffs seem to be the trend amongst todayâ€™s successful marketing and advertising corporations. Take Googleâ€™s GMail for example, great service, I use it. But now because Googleâ€™s bots can search the contents of my inbox (one where I never delete anything) they can more accurately classify me. True, if I have to see ads it’s nice that they are relevant and I do trust Google, but isnâ€™t our identity our own? Shouldnâ€™t we receive most if not all of the revenue generated by its use? We are so used to our identities being sold and traded and getting nothing in return that we love GMail because it gives us something in return. However, that something is given in exchange for a type and scale of profiling that was never before possible.
Will we ever have a say in who sees the information that makes up our identity or see any of the revenue generated by their commodification? Reheingoldâ€™s second chapter, Technologies of Cooperation, made me envision a way it could be possible (Iâ€™ll elaborate more on this idea in another post).
Youâ€™re going to create breadcrumbs, if you donâ€™t pick them up someone else will.