Following in the footsteps of Steve’s Third Axiom – You can’t protect yourself part-time, from people committed to taking advantage of you full-time – I’ve started to seriously question any free content on the net. Case in point: Mr. Dario sent me a link to an interesting article in the Financial Times on-line version, FT.com. Unfortunately, I’ll never know if what he sent me is truly interesting because the site announces that it’s content is now only available to “registered users”….but you can register for free.

Now maybe I’ve got this all wrong. But I thought that when you bought a newspaper, or visited one on-line, it was the advertisers who were paying for the content, and yes, you had to look at and potentially be influenced by their ads. But that was part of the consumer game, and we knew the rules. Ads were generally bullshit wrapped in fancy paper, but occasionally there might be something of interest.

Now however, I have to register for the privilege of viewing what was isn’t really free content anyway, because the ads are still there. Why? The answer is rather obvious and sits in my Junk Mail folder every day, usually at a ratio of 4 to 1 vs. emails I actually want to get. Email addresses, especially those linked to specific demographics such as age, gender, marital status, financial position, home-ownership vs. rental, etc., are gold to all the marketers who want to “target” potential customers more effectively (read: not waste money on unlikely buyers of their product).

It’s no mystery why 90% of the  junk-mail I get is for products related to my age and gender: Viagra tops the list, next come prescription meds, penis-enlargement and other sexual fulfillment offers, then proposals from young Russian women looking for a husband so they can emigrate to Canada, and finally Rolex and other high-end watches (fakes of course).

Selling mailing lists is HUGE business. I know. Hell, I’ve bought them for projects related to work. For example, I can buy a highly selected list based right down to the type of toilet paper used in the household. That’s because grocery stores and other retailers do the same thing every time they ask you for your postal code at the checkout counter. They link what you buy to where you live. So as a marketer, if I want to promote gourmet crackers via direct mail, I can buy a list of everyone who bought paté living in a certain geographic zone, right down to the postal code.

On the surface this may not even be a bad thing. But human nature and greed being what they are, list vendors are not so discriminating about who they sell their lists to.

Gotta run, I’ve got 50 junk-mail to quickly scan to make sure my Junk Mail filter didn’t accidentally nab an email I actually want (junk-mail security is far from foolproof). And maybe have a look at some young Russian ladies.

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