Let's get one thing clearly stated from the beginning: Any website or marketing service which illegally obtains information about any individual or group of individuals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Invasion of privacy without a granting of permission is clearly a crime, and needs to be treated as such. Having said that, however, I have to ask everyone if they realize how many perceived threats to their privacy are, in fact, of their own doing.
Purchasing habits and marketers
When you get a credit card, and you check that box stating that you have read and understand all terms and conditions, have you really read them? When that company then sends you the booklet stating what they can do with the information that they gather about your purchasing habits (among other things), do you honestly bother to digest it? Credit card companies, such as Visa, will not share your information with marketers without your permission, but you really need to read the fine print! Did you give that permission unknowingly? Probably, yes; so purchases with your Visa are likely being cataloged, resulting in target mail arriving in your mailbox at home.
How is this any different from most of what happens to you when you surf the World Wide Web? You look at a car online, what happens? For weeks, that car company pops up everywhere on your browser. Somehow this is interpreted as Big Brother watching, and prying into your affairs; yet the credit card information which is being fed to scores and scores of companies is easily ignored. Somehow this isn't an invasion of your privacy?
If you want to feel safe in your online browsing, look for the https designation. The 's' means secure. There is a handshake agreement that your information is encrypted when it leaves your browser, and then decrypted on the other end. You can choose to have your Facebook page made secure. Remember, though, that you have signed an agreement with Facebook to create this page, and they are going to share your information with their advertisers.
Yes, Big Brother is watching, but this has been a fact of life long before today.
In the late 'Ö90s I was with Firefly, the first Social Network that spun out of MIT, and we invented the first Internet oncology. This oncology was a depiction of visitor personalities based on their travels around the web. We used a heuristic approach in determining what people were interested in, and which companies they patronized, in order to formulate a kind of DNA representation of our users. It was a collaborative filtering process with amazing accuracy, much like the way Amazon.com now tracks your purchases and makes often uncanny recommendations for you based on your shopping profile. Through this we were establishing personalized services, and the first personalized social network on the Internet. We shared this information with sites like MyYahoo, so they could personalize their users' home pages.
We understood the implications of what we were doing, and were concerned about privacy issues at that time. A young marketing intern who worked for me wrote to then Vice President Al Gore. Christine Varney was head of the Federal Trade Commission at the time, and she and the VP were very interested in what we were doing. My team was asked to participate in Congressional meetings which initiated the first legislation to tackle web privacy. It was called Internet Official Protocol Standards (IOPS), and it has been updated several times, most recently in 2008. That first iteration insisted upon, among other things, that checkmark beside the box on all online Terms of Service. And, why not? People have been checking boxes in Terms of Service agreements for years.
I appreciate the concerns people have about Big Brother collecting information about them on the web. As you can see, it's been a concern of mine for years. Yes, people are collecting data and information about you all the time. This is in effort to provide the goods and services which you've shown an interest in. It's called targeted advertising, and it's a proven, successful approach. If, at one time, it was secret marketing magic'_Well, the genie has been out of the bottle for a long time both on and off the web.