THE BLOG
02/03/2011 04:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fretting Over Internet Privacy? Relax, You Don't Have to Opt-In to Big Brother.

Ah, privacy. Is it a relic of the 20th century? Today's society seems rather conflicted on the topic. In the afternoon, we rail at marketers and the latest attempt by team Zuckerberg to mine our friends, photos, and "likes" without mentioning we need to change our privacy settings yet again. But then we spend the evening watching the latest reality show contestants baring intimate details and body parts. Maybe we've even tried to get on one of those shows. Let's see, you don't want Facebook to know what college you went to, but you're willing to get drunk and throw up on national television, then go viral on YouTube?

But I'm not being fair, really. The difference in these examples is clear -- one is our choice and one is (sometimes) not. Though it's not in the Constitution, as some believe, the Bill of Rights' 9th Amendment does address our right to privacy. It's part of the DNA in a democracy and really, in every human's DNA. But the internet has made it easy to "invade" privacy, whether it's harmless information collecting -- and information collecting by marketers is not the work of the devil -- or, at the other extreme, identity theft, espionage and, depending on your point of view, WikiLeaks. Like anything, digital information mining can be used for good or evil.

But in the realm of mining for marketing, we need to take a breath and not get our knickers in a twist. This new collection and use of information is necessary to ensure that the internet continues to thrive (I'll explain), and equally to make sure the user experience continually improves. In a roundabout way, the collection of information leads to monetizing content and making sure there is always plenty of useful and useless information and entertainment for you to spend far too much of your day looking at.

I'm not sure all consumers realize what goes on behind their little two dimensional computer screen. There is great cost involved in running these digital content companies that bring you the latest news, cool apps, and rich media. For starters, it requires a huge staff and ginormous servers so that many millions of you can ooh at today's cute pet video all at once. How can these content companies finance this? So far, the only big win has been through selling ads.

It's no different than television. Consumers in essence pay for the shows (content) to be made by buying the products they see advertised. And product owners, seeing that they've sold products through this advertising (though there are many other things that go into marketing, of course), buy more advertising, which in turn supports the creation of more content by financing production companies and broadcasters. The same thing happens on content sites.

Ok, we're coming to the finish line now. The thing is, many advertising supported sites are still trying to turn a profit. Indeed, big smart companies have bought profitless operations with huge users bases and are still trying to make a success of them (hello MySpace). And if they can deliver a better targeted, turnkey product for advertisers, who are plenty frustrated now because media consumptions habits are frightfully fragmented, then they can move towards more effective ads.

So, we marketers need some info from you in order to provide this enhanced way for brands to reach consumers and do what they're here to do: sell more stuff. That's right, marketers shouldn't be shy and neither should companies. Hey, everyone, we admit it, we're here to sell you more stuff.

So brands are collecting information to facilitate this great targeting. And I must say, as a consumer, I don't really mind. If I'm going to have to see ads, and we all will, forever, I'd rather have them be relevant to my life and interests. And as a marketer I hope you, the consumer, don't really mind. Trust me, it will make advertising consumption a kinder, gentler experience, and is guaranteed to bring some product or service to your attention that you'll really like, without besieging you with a bunch of ads that don't interest you. We can do this from collecting a lot of information about you. Just think of it as having a Nielsen box in every room of your house, in your car, at work, at your gym, on vacations, and anywhere else you go with a digital device. Digitally, you'll never walk alone.

Understandably, consumers are all a little nervous about this. People don't like change. And the exponential increase of identity theft via the internet hasn't helped. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And don't worry, marketers are protecting your information. Trust me, they don't want to give it away or have it out and about for all and sundry to see. No, they're going to sell it! See, I'm going for full transparency here.

But I must admit, when things like sharing your FB friends' names is the price of admission to content, I don't like it one bit. But there is a simple solution. As my favorite digital guru Gene De Libero says, "so don't enter the info, idiot!" You don't have to let Big Brother know everything, and you won't die without the "find out who's been looking at your profile" app.

Ok, so have we all calmed down now? Good. Though, I have to say, I do worry about Google taking over the world.