Being in the modern world: One ID but 18 different people

Your ID doesn't change, but you are not the same person throughout your day...
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Video: Scraped and leaked: 48 million users' social profiles

Facebook and Google make money by aggregating services and advertising around a single user ID -- usually your official name. But this creates a messy user experience, as the algorithms try to guess your interests from a large tableau of your various activities.

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Each has one name, but we are at least 18 different people, maybe even more. Consider how different you are during the week: You have a senior role at work, compared with your family persona; you are a soccer coach on Wednesday and Saturday; at weekends, you organize a bicycle club; in the evenings, you do yoga classes and dance classes; on Friday afternoon, you volunteer at the local food bank; you visit your grandparents every Sunday with your siblings and children; you go dancing and socializing with the same group of (non-work) pals every Saturday; and you regularly attend your local alumni events. Then, there's your silent DJ hiking group on Sunday, and your online photo community, and other professional associations, and your children's school with its parent and teacher communities, etc.

Same name -- 18 very different people

The algorithms of Facebook and Google have mashed up all these different personas into one ID -- but we're only one person at a time. Despite all their data about us all, these massive platforms still don't seem to know us much at all.

For example: I don't need or want to know everything about a work colleague or the office details of a distant family member. And why do I need to impose notifications on my activities to others when it's not necessary or related? It wastes time. People need partitions between their various activities -- and they seek them.

Just because it is easy to aggregate a person's activities doesn't mean it is a service to them. It is not. It is a service for advertisers.

We now have a national debate about people's rights to their data and to their privacy. We need to recognize that the issue is much more complex. Each user is 18 different people with different privacy needs and rights.

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And as for targeted advertising -- which one of my personalities are being advertised to at a given time? My personalities are expressed one at a time, and they do not have simultaneous interests.

Even more ads that are less effective

Several years ago Google scrapped separate IDs for each of its services in favor of a single user ID. This simplified ad sales and created large potential audiences for advertisers.

But the user experience becomes messy, and the advertising is less effective, as the algorithms target one of your more profitable online personalities (usually when you aren't using it).

This wasn't a problem with contextual advertising, where ads for cameras, for example, appeared on a camera content page. This might explain why Google's advertising isn't working very well.

Google's parent, Alphabet [$GOOG], reported strong Q1 financial results earlier this week, but again, there was a big drop in revenues per click compared with a year ago, and this time it fell nearly one-fifth, or 19 percent.

Every single quarter for the past few years, Google announces a substantial loss of revenues per click of 15 percent to 20 percent.

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But it manages to find more places to sell more ads to counteract what has been an unstoppable slide in revenues per click. Less clicks per ads but more ads -- that's Google's growth strategy. And that's our future on Google's web: Even more ads, because they are less effective.

Single-topic, walled-garden communities

The ever-intrusive aspects of targeted adverting, plus the prospects of a web filled with even more ads, puts the future into sharp focus: People will join single-topic, walled-garden communities, where shared interests and activities stay there unless voluntarily shared by each person or by community agreement.

Many will be subscription-based services, which means there's no need to snoop and snitch on users. And many online communities will be very local. This is the only way that people will take control over their personal data, because they have no control over its uses today.

People will be able to retreat into communities with absolutely no advertising. It will be a big setback to the brands and their insatiable thirst for customer data.

Why does your soap powder need to know so much about you? This data collection is harmful, because it exposes people to hidden political manipulation.

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The big consumer brands have chosen an adversarial marketing strategy that will push people away -- and into ad-free enclaves. Good luck reaching them there.

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