May 2, 2002


The Intrusion Explosion (WILLIAM SAFIRE, May 2, 2002, NY Times)
Forget all about old-fashioned consumer surveys or even focus groups. The hot new technique in exploring your buying decision is called "observational research" or "retail ethnography." This buying-spying uses hidden surveillance cameras, two-way mirrors and microphones concealed under counters.

Stephanie Simon reports on the front page of The Los Angeles Times that cutting-edge market researchers are now zooming in on faces and fingers as customers ponder a decision to buy a product. Though a subtle sign at the entrance says the experimental store is "in test mode" and "your opinion counts," most people are unaware that their every facial tic is recorded and analyzed.

All perfectly legal in today's Intrusion Explosion. Coming soon in a bookstore, video store or newsstand near you: a close-up recording of your examination of a girlie magazine or lusty movie, a left-wing weekly or a right-wing book. Your reactions go in the marketers' dossier on you, available for a fee to advertisers, telemarketers or political opposition
researchers. [...]

Now that the issue is rejoined, privacy advocates should create a simple "privacy index" so voters can see which politicians are on their side and which don't care. This will reveal some surprises: for example, Senator John McCain is an opt-outer, weak on the privacy issue.

We should also expose the intrusion lobby as it yells Yahoo! to the sale of private data without consent. Who contributes to the intrusion lobby's fund--and which legislators in Washington and in state capitals get its largess?

Finally, libertarians of left and right should hold President Bush to his pledge to require merchants to ask the consumer's consent. How would he like to have "observational research" in the Oval Office?

We are shocked, shocked, to find the libertarians becoming luddites, but welcome them to the club. They should get used to hearing about how foolish and backwards it is to try to resist new technologies and the glorious march of science. They will also hear about how they need to "get over" their antiquated belief in privacy, which may have been suitable for a 20th Century world but must be left behind as we "progress". And, of course, their insistence that government act to protect a right (privacy) that nowhere appears in the Constitution will be greeted with derision. Particularly galling will be having all their own arguments thrown back in their faces.

Boy, I'm gonna enjoy this...

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 2, 2002 7:54 AM
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