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halloween kuerbissuppe pumpkin soup

Halloween zombies are tracking your hunt for pumpkin soup – You get the recipe, they get you.

Thanks to data from Google Analytics and a few other sources, we know the major Halloween search terms — and they vary substantially by geography.  For the German-speaking DACH area, the top nine terms have just been cooked into this tasty blog title. But that is just for the DACH region. A look at key search words for the US and England show that zombie costumes are hugely popular and that pumpkins are almost exclusively used for jack-o-lanterns, not for food. And certainly not for pumpkin schnitzel.

Privacy and the pursuit of pumpkins

Search terms matter and search engine optimization is an accepted part of any online marketing campaign. But, it’s time people think more critically about where and how the information about Halloween pumpkin activities is being collected, how this is being used, and how much of your privacy is getting lost in the process.

Tracking those regional tastes

The basic list of German Halloween search terms contains nothing that can identify individuals and their private activities. If we get a more detailed, granular set of data then we can perhaps realize that people in Berlin are looking for curry and coconut milk as they search for the perfect pumpkin recipe. And the Austrians near Linz are quite traditional and like their pumpkin soup with potatoes and garlic and – very important – a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil on top.

This would enable great marketing because the target area has been more closely identified and product offerings can be adjusted accordingly. Berlin shops could advertise more Indian-themed foods and the Austrians could target buyers of cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil. And this data is still anonymous. Nothing is known about precise, individual preferences.

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Slicing the data even finer

But what would happen if online marketers knew that a certain IP address near Munich with a MAC address identifying the device as a Samsung Galaxy 6, was looking for pumpkin recipes on a Thursday night?

Is that clever marketing – or is this getting invasive?

And what happens after data brokers mix and match data from various sources, websites, and social media, to realize that a certain Ingrid had posted pictures of her cute little zombies eating bowls of pumpkin soup for the previous two years – and noticed that all parties were at the same address.

Is this creepy –or just even better marketing?

On the positive side, as a marketing person would likely point out, this would enable Ingrid to be sent timely pumpkin offers together with party supplies so she would have no stress preparing for the festivities. Creepy or not, it certainly is doable. Raytheon, an American defense technology company developed something similar with its RIOT “extreme-scale analytics” system, three years ago.

Of course you are (not) anonymous

Around a thousand trackers are presently at work on the internet, using a variety of technologies from cookies to canvasing, as they build up their databases of user profiles. Collections of data are bought, sold, and exchanged as data brokers build information about their target audiences. Your privacy is preserved because this data does not identify you as an individual – or so they say. But as user profiles become more and more detailed, the closer these profiles come to identifying us as private individuals.

Let’s get cookin’ in private

Online privacy is a matter of both technology and habit – something like closing a door and locking it. The technologies to shut out trackers are available and easy to use. The question is only if people are ready to regularly use them.

Here’s a short list of privacy tools to consider.

  1. An ad blocker.
  2. Avira Browser Safety – blocks trackers as well as malicious URLs.
  3. Privacy Badger – Identifies and blocks trackers based on their activities and the company they keep.
As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.