In the book, The Search, author John Battelle talks about the database of intentions. As he states, “Billions of queries stream across the servers of these Internet services—the aggregate thought stream of humankind, online…Link by link, click by click, search is building possibly the most significant cultural artifact in the history of mankind: the Database of Intentions.” He goes on to conclude that this creates, “a massive clickstream database of desires, needs, wants, and preferences that can be discovered, subpoenaed, archived, tracked and exploited for all sorts of ends.”

Whether the above paragraph makes you paranoid with worry or salivate with the marketing possibilities you are not alone. Late stage capitalism may very well have gone from the power of media and advertising to the power of mathematical number crunching. There are benefits to having a datastream—this will clear the way for increased personalization and better targeting of customers due to their own unstated or “collected” preferences. The downside is the possibility of shady marketing schemes, where businesses such as credit cards can offer or deny you credit based on the types of purchases you make. The recent New York Times Magazine article, “What does your credit company know about you?” showed that when credit card company purchase data is calculated in comparison to credit history and income there are products and services that tag certain customers as bad credit risks. For instance generic brand motor oil, using a credit card at a pool hall, and buying chrome-plated skull accessories all had much higher incidence of default rather than those customers who purchased carbon-monoxide monitors, used their card in a stamp or coin store, or purchased premium dog food.

In the first instance you can imagine a blue-collar hot rod lover, and the second is your animal-loving, retired neighbor. But if you do business on the Internet or over the phone, you won’t be able to tell these two apart. And what may be most fascinating is that without transparency in loaning and credit practices you may be denied a credit line based on your purchasing history and never know why you were declined. The data sword cuts both ways.

In addition there have been moves to interest businesses in cloud computing. This is where instead of your business purchasing the software to run programs on your office computers (such as Microsoft Office), instead, programs are offered for free or at a monthly charge and all your information is kept on the groups of servers run by the company offering the program (such as Gmail or SalesForce). In the latter situation, a business or individual will not have to layout money for software, and get the benefits of super-fast cloud computing. But legally, it is unclear who owns the information that is kept on another company’s server and what legal rights to privacy the original creator of that data will have.

There are many fascinating, cutting-edge legal complications that come with running a business with an increasing data-focus. Our next post here at Obu Interactive we will be looking to provide some advice on the following issues:

1) How safe is your data? How safe are your customers?

2) What information is ethical to collect on your customers?

3) What are your legal obligations in protecting your company and customer data?

Erin Jourdan is a guest blogger who has worked extensively in print and interactive.

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