Technology

Rampant data mining breaches privacy

The best selling author of Buyology and Brandwashed, Martin Lindstrom, has criticised technology companies for exploiting consumer's privacy and acting unethically in their data mining practices.

A confessed embedded "evil marketer", who works with Fortune 500 titans, Lindstrom is calling on technology companies to "keep their house in order" and install a set of ethics in the absence of regulation.

Lindstrom warns that the lack of policing in the area of data mining for marketing purposes and the evolving sophistication of technology means consumers' digital footprints are constantly under threat.

He is concerned consumers are unaware of the problem.

"The new generation has given up. They have no idea about the extent to which they are selling out to Gmail or the iPhone," he says.

Following his research with consumers on the use of Facebook and Google, he found that not only were they not aware of how their personal data was being used, but cared little about it.

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"It makes me very sad. I am born and raised in Scandinavia and because of our relationship to World War II and Germany, our attitude to privacy is very different ."

Lindstrom predicts that a "Wikileaks of brands" is poised to emerge. It will be the whistleblower on the practices and tactics employed by top-end-of-town companies who he believes are breaching privacy in extreme ways.

Lindstrom says the biggest technology brands are the worst offenders in the rampant uses of data mining - a method extracting consumer information through their daily online and mobile movements.

"Apple uses the data it collects from its iPhone tracking points which they sell to third parties. Germany banned the iPhone until Apple allowed consumers the option to opt out of this feature, but not every government will police this kind of behaviour on behalf of the consumer," he says.

He urges consumers to be aware and for governments to keep reminding consumers of the risks.

Meanwhile companies now have an "ethical responsibility and ad agencies need to wake up", he said.

Lindstrom warns of the age of the 'super cookie' which while not illegal, sits on the edge of privacy in his view.

Super cookies, used by a range of technology companies, are insidious in their invisibility and data mining power. Once embedded in a computer system, it cannot be searched for or deleted and it also has the power to recover deleted information over the last five years.

"In the US, Microsoft had the super cookies integrated into the MSN network and was part of the offering to advertisers," he claims.

Following a Stanford University researchers' outing of super cookie practices, Microsoft said it had ceased using them in its MSN network.

Microsoft Australia said super cookies never hit our shores via their network.

"We are against the use of super cookies and we do not use them in the MSN network in Australia and never have. We believe in privacy and transparency, a NineMSN spokesperson told IT Pro.

Other more consumer friendly forms of data mining are being constantly pumped out by Facebook and Google, he warns.

Facebook's new feature "Look at me, Look at you" allows a friend's network to see what they are watching or reading.

"As we know, consumers are incredibly affected by each other and influenced by each other. We are hardwired to trust our friends, and we take their information on board," he says.

The use of apps like the "Look at me, Look at you" allows movie companies and brands to have an addressable, targeted audience that they can seed messages into, he says.

The natural progression of this is that "individuals will become banner ads for other products. So you become a brand ambassador without knowing it."

"The future will not be like the Minority Report where brands are shouting at you, the shouts will be coming from your friends."