Web creep-factor rises

Creep factor on the Web (iStock)In honor of the 4th of July holiday weekend, we thought we would take a look at our favorite stories of the week. As it turns out, three of them having some measure of creep factor. So, to take your mind off your worries or obsessions (Will Yahoo implode? Will I have to wait in line for my 3G iPhone–and can I sell my overpriced year-old version on Craigslist? Should I forget about fireworks and watch Celebrity Rehab reruns on Tivo?), here are three creepy business tech stories to consider:

Creepy Web item #1:
YouTube (and of course, sugar-daddy Google), will have to turn over all user information and history to Viacom. As Wired notes, “Viacom wants the data to prove that infringing material is more popular than user-created videos, which could be used to increase Google’s liability if it is found guilty of contributory infringement.” So basically, if you watched Amy Winehouse punching a fan or my personal favorite, the hysterically laughing baby Viacom will know when, where and how many times you did so. The ruling may not be a big surprise in the age of rapidly decreasing privacy rights–and it may not even bother most users who figure their cable companies and Web providers know pretty much everything already. But it is definitely, a bit creepy. Ew. (Update: It looks like things may not be so bad afterall, Viacom and Google have reached an agreement to anonymize user addresses and personal information.)

Creepy Web item #2:
Personalized emails make consumers feel gross. This according to a research study surfaced by WSJ’s Business Technology Blog. The blog reports, “…there’s a fine line between helpful and creepy. A message that addressed someone by name and said “as an action-movie fan, we thought you’d be interested in joining others in San Francisco” was the email equivalent of a pushy sales person” Debra Zahay, one of the study’s authors” was quoted as saying. The study found, not surprisingly, that when users feel “creeped out” they don’t read the emails.

Marketers and advertisers are advised to take note, so as not to, ahem, creep out your clients.

Creepy Web item #3:
We’re to blame for the creeps! The NY Times reports new research, by Carnegie Mellon behavioral scientist George Loewenstein, reveals just how contradictory users are about how they protect or divulge their private information. According to their findings, depending on the way information is presented online, users will feel more inclined to share confidential–even incriminating details. But why is this particularly true online?

“Creating an informal online atmosphere, it seems, encourages self-revelation, even though an unprofessional site is probably more likely to pose a privacy problem than an elaborate, professional one.

Mr. Loewenstein finished his talk at the conference with a word of warning about a medium that appears to confound our ability to navigate privacy issues according to our best interests. “The cues that we rely on through culture and evolution to tell us there is a privacy issue are not present on the Internet,” he said. Meanwhile, “the same technology magnifies the risk.”

Consumers and Web users are advised to take note, so as to keep your private lives (lol!) safe. Marketers will no doubt take note as well–this study confirms what advertisers have known for years–provide a safe space for users and they’ll willingly give you more keys to the castle.