Digital sweepers

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
30 August, 2016
Editorial: 25
Fecha de publicación original: 25 junio, 1996

Date of publication: 25/6/1996. Editorial 025.

The Devil is the father of lies

The recent Internet Global Forum held in Barcelona and organized by the American magazine Fortune, emphasised the increasing power of the economic side of the net. Making an appearance along with the instant millionaires, such as the founders of Yahoo and Netscape, were the big corporations who are starting to learn how to sharpen up the edges of a market place visited by 40 million potential customers, for a variety of different reasons. It’s an appetising cake to get a slice of, but it’s not properly baked yet. These companies have their sights set on the, as yet, unimaginable vista of the 300, 600 or even 1.000 million internauts that cyberspace promises will be there within a few years. The question is how to get to them in the most efficient, rapid and, above all — and this is the magic word — personalized way? How to find out who’s who and what should be sold to each person? How to get the basic information which will enable them to individualize each user, get to know their tastes, habits and dreams? Or, in other words, how to manage to get cybernauts to express consumer guidelines to the point where they themselves act as their own marketing directors, and, while they are at it, the companies’? These were the questions that were repeatedly under discussion at the Global Forum.

The answers to these questions, if we can dare to outline them so soon, are only clear on the negative side: present marketing techniques, in all their complexity, are, and will be, of no use as a guideline. The networks represent a new type of market whose rules have still to be drawn up, above all because it is so immature. The corporations are speaking of a whole new process, as yet completely unknown in the dense and youthful history of capitalism: handing over the job of commercial director of a multitude of companies to consumers, with the aim of satisfying their own needs, both those that are known and those that have yet to be discovered. This is what is being said and no means will be spared to put it into practice. What is at stake is a whole new consumer universe, more varied, vast and profound than anybody has ever imagined before. The consequences of such a “state of things” have not been imagined either. What we are going to be reduced to–or whatever it is that will happen to us–in a world like this, is as yet unknown.

In Barcelona we heard that some companies are spending as much as three million dollars (let there be no confusion here, that’s why I’m writing it in words) on the design of new “webs”. And some were on show. At first sight they are fascinating. Never the same, they change at each viewing, they offer new information, with different designs, different navigational guides and renewed links with the rest of the net. As there is this enormous effort to multiply digital scenarios–which they call “page maintenance”– one can hardly make out the tools that gather up information about each visitor. These are veritable “digital sweepers” which carefully scrutinize who enters, what navigator they use, where they come from, where they go, what pages attract them most, what they buy, when they lie and when they don’t when they fill in forms, etc. The end result is a profile which allows the producers of consumer goods to plan their assault, above all through personalized advertising for every visitor. This advertising is disseminated throughout the net in a diffuse manner, in a cooperative effort on the part of the advertisers who exchange valuable information collected by the “sweepers”. Internauts are not even aware of who it is that is trafficking with their personal information, they only notice the results in a subtle way: every time they visit certain pages (whose popularity will be on the increase), the “web” owner turns their eyes into wonderful magicians almost always managing to show them exactly what they wanted to see, or once they have, finding exactly what they wanted to consult.

This possible development on the net implies much more serious dangers than the much vaunted — and impractical–state policing of the nets. Advertising of this nature could become a powerful vehicle for disseminating certain ideas, prejudices and visions of the world encapsulated in consumer guidelines subtly deposited in the bosom of the very navigating habits of internauts. Up to now the transparency of the net acted as a strong lever for the development of its social and cultural aspects, ranging from colourful personal initiatives, to the very useful citizens networks or the very extensive field of education. As the economic aspects start to make themselves felt on cyberspace, internauts will be confronted with the need to responsibly decide what portion of personal information they are prepared to hand over or keep to themselves depending on how it might be used. Fortunately they will find programming tools to do this. Nevertheless, it will, undoubtedly, be their vigilant attitude which will protect them from becoming self-employed marketing directors with no salaries at all.

Translation: Bridget King.