Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pandora's Box

            Data mining sounded creepy in the text, but it isn’t that bad until you realize that you’re a part of it, too. Leading up to election season, political ads targeting young people were blitzing the Internet, and I managed to find myself the specific target of an ad. Listening to my favorite bands on Pandora, I was shocked to suddenly hear President Obama informing me that millions of Ohioans have voted early. I wasn’t that creeped out, but going over it after reading about data mining made me ask a couple questions: How did they know that I’m from Ohio? How do they know that I’m part of a demographic that would want to vote early? It’s a bit discomforting to know that someone managed to get that information out of me.
            But can we really blame advertisers for using this tool? If they can figure out my age group and my home state, I’m sure that other advertisers have other information about me. Who knows what I’m being sold, and what I’m going to be sold, without my knowledge that it’s being targeted specifically at me? And is that even such a bad thing? In an odd way, I enjoyed the thought that the Pandora ad was made specifically for me and others like me. The ad will probably encourage many people on both sides to vote that normally would not. Ohio is going to be an intense battleground state this year, so why not use all of the tools available? Sure it’s creepy, but it works, and many people don’t even notice that it’s happening. Many websites are data mining in much more voluntary and much less creepy ways. Hulu plays ads while you watch, but it asks if you think that an ad is relevant to you while you watch. You can select yes or no, and it will determine what ads it shows in the future based on what you selected as relevant or irrelevant. It’s possible that these preferences are passed onto a shady information group, but what do you care if you’re enjoying your Hulu commercials? Looking forward, we have to weigh the pros and cons of losing our privacy.
            We shouldn’t be too afraid of losing our privacy because we are called to live in a way that exposes our lives and actions to others. We are called by the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, so what do we have to fear from others knowing more about us? We ought to live in such a way that others will look at our lives and recognize that what we have is evident and wonderful. Fighting for our privacy seems like a waste of time in contrast to our goal and our calling. We have to take care that we are in the world and not of the world as we live in a world of advertisements. Our witness is going to be put to the test if we’re being watched, in any way.

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