Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Oprah The Shopping Mall Creditcards With Eyeballs


Women in cyberspace ~ so desirable, so vulnerable

From The Statesman

The dotcom world is rising again. Companies that survived the last crisis have revamped their business models by turning cyberspace into an extended turf of their existing businesses.
Cyberspace has become a goldmine of valuable information left by surfers, which could be turned into databases for target marketing. Cyber profiling is emerging as an important business tool for reaching the right woman through narrowly focused and targeted popup and banner advertising and e-mail marketing.

Since most of the domestic buying in the USA, more than 80 per cent according to some estimates, is done by women, data miners and cyber profilers are concentrating on websites aimed at women, which is raising serious concern about information privacy.

It is no great surprise that advertisers and marketers have begun to use the Internet in befriending women because they control effective spending. Only in the matter of high expenditure items like buying a new house, car or going on a vacation, men do butt in with their wisdom, though even in these domains, the woman's voice is decisive.

Advertisers have known the truth all along. In the 1920s, radio began to develop as a mass medium with a potential to reach millions of women, most of who did not have jobs and stayed at home with children and extended families. Domestic product companies like Proctor & Gamble developed daytime serial dramas to entertain and hook women so that they could listen to soap commercials.

That's how daytime radio dramas came to be called soap operas. In the 1950s, when television started to dominate American homes, soap operas migrated to the new medium and they have continued to retain their popularity, in spite of the fact that most women work today.

Soap operas dramatise women's problems ranging from date rapes and workplace harassment to raising children and keeping up with husbands in a culture where matrimony is one block away from the divorce court.

Those who do not succumb to the charm of slow moving daytime dramas cannot resist the temptations of Oprah Winfrey, her talk show, her "O" magazine, and her Oxygen Media, where TV and the Web converge. She is probably the biggest electronic shopping mall where women come and go talking of George Clooney and Tom Cruise, but leave with bags full of goodies. Women are "inherently desirable" not only in cyberspace but also in the traditional media because they virtually control the purse. Why? Because women love to shop.

Men do not know even the size of their own shirt collar. Ask a man to buy an apple and he would bring an orange! Men can't buy their pajamas or decide on what colour their boxers should be. Home Shopping Network and other interactive television shopping malls run on the patronage of women. Men in the mall might push the cart, but women fill it up.

There lies the future of cyberspace as a medium of e-commerce, but that would require the building of high quality websites where women feel comfortable and do not mind shedding valuable data that can be aggregated and collated into reliable individual profiles. Imagine every woman having her own personal shopping corner in cyberspace where everyone knows her tastes and preferences and where all her problems can be solved.

So when a woman enters iVillage.com or Oxygen Media portal, she could join a women's chat group and make new virtual friends; explore fitness and beauty issues and food recipes, while working from home and parenting; find advice about her job and tips about marriage, dating and love; and publish her personal story on the Web.

There is a price to pay for in cyberspace free lunch is a thing of the past. As women become comfortable in their own cyber quarters, they will be scanned of all their personal data, including intimate details, but unlike at the airport, where touching and probing and electronic scanning can be so humiliating, in cyberspace it will be painless because they won't even know it.

Once cyberspace held so much promise for women, wrote Professor Ann Bartowin in the University of San Francisco Law Review, that it was the closest women could come to being "brains in boxes". "In cyberspace, we would not be judged by our bodies. No one would know when we have bad hair days. We would not have to wear make-up and high heels. We could be even 'men' without the hormones or expensive surgery. Then we began shopping and chatting over the Internet. Shortly thereafter, we learned that anyone in cyberspace could ascertain our gender, ages, incomes, education levels, marital status, sizes, consumer purchase proclivities, aspects of our health, and employment histories, and the number, ages, and genders of our children, and that this information could be used to sell us goods and services. Now, instead of 'brains in boxes', we are eyeballs with credit cards."

That's a terrible disappointment for women who thought that the anonymity of cyberspace would enlarge their freedom and empower them vis-à-vis men. But instead of reaching new thresholds of freedom and equality, women are being robbed of their privacy through surreptitious profiling. Welcome to cyber age.

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