You've probably noticed that if you go to Amazon and search for, say, hair dryers, for days after, every site you go to will be carrying hair dryer ads. If you've never noticed it, or just thought it was coincidence, go try it. It's actually kind of creepy. In fact, at this very moment, you're likely being monitored by over 100 companies, all for the explicit purpose of trying to decide what ads to show you -- that's just a part of everyday life on the Internet at this point. But if you want a preview of what the world will look like when companies start taking it too far, here you go:
Epic, a New York-based marketing firm, was recently caught using ads spread out over approximately 24,000 websites to spy on people's browser history and collect information about potential health problems to more efficiently target their advertisements. As in, if you searched "ruptured anus cures," they would follow you around the Web pelting you with ads for anal sealants. This, despite the fact that under normal circumstances medical records and other health-related information is supposed to be confidential.
"This information was supposed to be between me, my doctor, and my hooker."
And these weren't "Amazing Car Insurance Loophole!" pop-ups on some distant corner of the Internet, either -- Epic sponsored ads on CNN.com, Amazon, Orbitz, and numerous other high-profile sites, and their ads would track visitors after they left to see what (if any) medically related searches they conducted. Epic then stored all this information in a database, organized in categories such as "diabetes" and "incontinence," so that they could target users with advertisements related to their specific medical conditions (although those two keywords would result in the most frighteningly majestic commercial Wilford Brimley has ever appeared in).
Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images, securepersonalcare.com
You may recognize this as being fantastically illegal, and so did the Federal Trade Commission, who sued Epic and forced them to destroy all the information they'd harvested. By then, Epic was tracking millions of Internet users and attempting to enhance their browsing experience by peppering them with personalized ads helpfully reminding them -- and anyone else who used the computer -- of their debilitating ailments. It could eventually get to the point where the only way to shop privately is to actually drive out to the freaking mall, because you can go into f.y.e. and buy the Rambo collection with absolutely no chance of the clerk following you around for three hours waving Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot in your face.
"This copy has her deleted shower scene."
But the implications are so much bigger than even that -- with enough access to your social media, Google searches, and browsing habits, and a smart enough algorithm behind it, a company could know things about you that you don't even know yourself. They see you starting a diet and immediately know from prior behavior that you'll be back shopping for fat pants six months later. So the future of The Terminator came true, only instead of Skynet murderbots chasing us through the ruins and firing rail guns at us, it's a series of databases stealthily calculating when to ambush us with Mountain Dew ads. It could have been worse, we guess.
You can follow Alaric Penname on Twitter.
For more reasons to be alarmed by some companies, check out 6 Secret Monopolies You Didn't Know Run the World and 6 Companies That Rigged The Game (And Changed the World).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Hilariously Dangerous DIY Projects from Old Magazines.
And stop by LinkSTORM because productivity is for the birds.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up RIGHT NOW and pitch your first article today! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!
And don't forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to get sexy, sexy jokes sent straight to your news feed. Are you on Google+? So are we!