I remember the chills that ran up my spine and the quickening of my heartbeat when I realized someone was following me in the grocery store. It was an initial exchange of smiles in the produce section that turned into multiple disturbing encounters throughout the store. I was deciding between various flavors of rice when I noticed he was standing by the pastas. I was reading the nutritional content on a container of yogurt and noticed he was peering over at me from the jugs of milk. This continued on.
It was broad daylight and there were plenty of people milling around so I didn’t feel terribly threatened, just totally creeped out. Did this person think he knew me? Was he working up the courage to ask me out? Or was he evaluating how a fit 34-year old mom kept her kitchen stocked? Whatever the motivation – innocent, vicious, or somewhere in between – this person was invading my space. I didn’t give him permission to accompany me. I wasn’t followed out of the store but I did leave feeling violated.
When I became aware of the online companies that have been tracking what I read, watch, and listen to – I was overcome with a similar feeling as I described above. One Sunday morning, I overheard a debate on a news show on this very subject. One gentleman was pointing to Facebook and how their users are volunteering their information; therefore, the personal data is fair game and the company has a right to it. But the last time I checked my account settings, the update I chose to share with my select circle of friends was intended for them, not for everyone who has a Facebook account, and not for the people who work at Facebook, and certainly not for the creepy guy in the grocery store.
Had I found the manager of the grocery store that day and reported what I was experiencing, I’m 100% confident he would have personally escorted my stalker out the door. Perhaps a security guard or police officer would have gotten involved. I find it unsettling that companies are now helping themselves to this data without so much as asking – not dissimilar to those spying eyes. Is it necessary to better understand me as a customer? Would they send better deals my way?
Herein lies the real dilemma. It is easy enough to shop at a different market as there are plenty around the city. And if I can’t find the exact item I like then so be it. However, am I supposed to completely disengage from sites like Facebook and/or Groupon? Is that possible? Realistic? The larger companies like these get, the more complicated these privacy issues become. What do you think?