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Marketers Who Practice "Social Discrimination"

One of the fastest-growing online businesses is the business of spying on Internet users. Communications Professor Joseph Turow writes: "We're at the start of a revolution in the ways marketers and media intrude—and shape—our lives. Every day, most if not all Americans who use the internet … are being quietly peeked at, poked, and tagged as they move through the online world."

In other words, every time you click a link, fill out a form, or visit a website, advertisers are collecting personal information about you. Then companies target ads for you based on that information. Turow says that a recent online Valentine's Day card he sent to his wife, contained trackers from 15 different companies. Even a simple online greeting card purchase reveals a lot about you.

The goal is to sell us stuff more efficiently, but Turow worries that this new technology is creating a society where our value is defined by profiles we don't even know are being built. For example, marketers already have developed a new jargon that divides people into two distinct categories: "targets" and "waste." In the future, Turow says, advertisers might you place you in "reputation silos" that discriminate those pegged as "down-market." Turow says,

I'm concerned about … social discrimination. In an everyday world where companies are deciding [how] I'm targeted, making up pictures about me, I'm getting different ads and different discounts and different maps of even where I might sit in an airplane based on what they think about me … It has a lot of ramifications of how we see ourselves and how we see other people.

Possible Preaching Angles: Favoritism; Prejudice; Dignity—This new technology is a highly-sophisticated form of an old-fashioned sin—favoritism. The new form of prejudice will be based on our "reputation silos." "Targets" is bad enough, but can you imagine calling human beings "waste"?

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