Privacy, SERM and SEO

There's an interesting thread just started over on Quad's blog on this.

As an SEO with a bit of security and also content management industries experience who (partially as a result) works and lives under a few different identities online, I've got many a thought on this... and it would be inappropriate for me to put them into any comment when the comment would be longer than the post it inspired. That said:

On a public Web, by definition users are all public figures - both selling and buying something at all times - and the average one probably doesn't much know it, or at the very least not to what extent it actually happens.

Good SEOs can sport mad skillz to exploit and/or patch some things, sure. However, if/as SEOs haven't specifically deemed otherwise ahead of time, it's not like all that makes it into caches isn't still indexed or at least saved in some other form somewhere. Search engine reputation management (SERM) services can certainly help evaluate escaped genies, but engines still function like some countries' legal systems in that one's public record is one thing, and one's private record is another (still visible to judges).

One needn't ever publish anything though, to leave traces from which behavioral profiles can be gradually built. One need but swallow a cookie or three and let it sit in the browser's gut a while.

Behind my back I can see them stare

Returning to the analogy, if we were to equate the judges with engines and others who are in the business of not just providing information massively but also gathering it to sell intelligent, personalized, narrow-cast advertising services... we can remember there's a level of discussion beyond the fact that many users nowadays subscribe to the "if you don't have a blog/Myspace/etc., you don't exist" lifestyle. This is not just a privacy issue. It's also that whatever traces, Easter eggs, direction and/or misdirection one publishes about oneself directly informs how one gets marketed to through such services (now and to-morrow).

So yeah, we can note that everyone from businesses to the "reality" programming oriented generations are increasingly sacrificing privacy in favor of convenience and "I blog therefore I am" oriented approaches to finding social validation, but traces left are perhaps somewhat tempered i.e. per some (who knows what) relative ratio to the pacing of the greater information and noise expansion. Moreover, empowered with new easy socializing and publishing capabilities, users now own products and service brands more and more so that tempers the situation a bit too...

Such counter-balances however might be pretty dwarfed by a seemingly looming shadow regardless: The steadily growing potential for the general assimilation of e-commerce and social networking into search, leaving only 3 general entities online for perhaps many years to come: publishers, marketers/advertisers, and search engines (each of which still also both a brand and a consumer in its own way, level and right).

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