I can’t figure out whether all the data that Amazon and Facebook have about me is scary or laughable.
But I know this: Surveillance of my Internet use isn’t the best way to sell me stuff.
Several years ago, I noticed a vendor in Washington’s Eastern Market who sold purses for women made from hardback book covers. My grandmother, Francena Arnold, was a successful author of Christian romance novels, so I ordered her first and best-selling novel, Not My Will, from Amazon and had a purse made for Mom (I couldn’t find a hardback edition available today).
For months afterward, I got emails from Amazon urging me to buy other Christian romance novels, even though I’ve never read one that Grandma didn’t write. Proud as I am of her, it’s her genre, not mine. But I get that: I registered with Amazon and bought a book there, and their computer tells them that I might like these other books that people who bought Not My Will also liked. That’s probably a successful use of data most of the time.
Check out the suggestion above from Amazon in my Facebook feed today: Amazon or Facebook or both think I might be interested in buying Pete Rose’s book, My Prison Without Bars. It’s a 12-year-old book, and I don’t know whether I’ve ever ordered a baseball book from Amazon (I usually get my baseball books as gifts), certainly not one that showed any interest in Pete Rose.
Here’s why Amazon and/or Facebook think I might be interested in that book, though: I went to Amazon and grabbed a screenshot of the cover for an Oct. 31 Hated Yankees post mocking Fox Sports for putting Rose and Alex Rodriguez in its pre-game studio during the World Series. I called it the Fox Sports Image Rehab Clinic and posted memes making fun of Rose’s photobomb moment in the studio.
I think Pete Rose is a liar and an embarrassment to baseball, however well he played the game before he started gambling. I didn’t buy the book in 2003 and I’m not going to buy it today. But because I visited that page a couple weeks ago Amazon and/or Facebook think a gentle reminder might nudge me back there to finally buy it.
Other times, when I have actually bought something from Amazon, I’ve seen ads for the same thing shortly afterward on Facebook. These were things that you’d only want one of. Maybe they thought I’d want to give them as gifts?
Another time I searched for an image to use in a smart-ass remark in a Facebook discussion. And Facebook kept showing me the same image for several days after that. (See my discussion of that below.)
It’s creepy that Facebook and Amazon computers know I showed an interest in the Pete Rose book and are trying to figure out how to sell me the book. But I’m not going to get scared until they figure out what to do with this data.