Adam Chappell asks how far are we prepared to sacrifice our privacy, to be sold what we actually want

“Hello Sir! Hello Madam! You want to try a free sample? What do you put on your skin? Don’t be shy! Don’t go, you break my heart..This has real Gold in it…”

The recent rise of the street Hawker and their aggressive sales tactics is beginning to ruffle feathers around Beagle HQ. It’s getting so bad the Mayfair Lanes retail society are trying to restrict this bad practice, which belongs more in the vibrant souks of Marrakech than the soft sell of UK high streets.

It gets worse now the Spring has sprung. We can hear their shouty one-liners through the open windows and witness unsuspecting tourists being coerced into buying £200 worth of eye serum with “real diamonds” in it. Why would you want to rub diamonds in your eyes? We even spotted Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley politely declining the attentions of street Hawkers. After refusing three times he was surrounded on South Molton Street and eventually relented under pressure. The irony of Tony Hadley buying “Gold” skin products will not be lost on you I am sure.

This kind of street level retail assault is much like the digital equivalent of receiving unwanted marketing content; be it Facebook Ads, Emails you never subscribed to, or pre-rolls you can’t skip.

That said, Google seem to be improving their targeted advertising as they relate to your search terms. We all know searching for summer holidays in the South of France will generate relevant online Ads.

There was the case of an MP who complained about all the pornography online these days, including unwanted ads. The journalist pointed out this was down to his search terms relating to porno. He quickly changed the subject…

There have been stories in the press about Facebook listening to us via the microphones in our laptops and mobiles, in order to harvest data and further refine personalised ads via “audio discovery”. There have been conflicting statements from Facebook about whether this is really happening yet. So we decided to try it out in the office to test the theory.

We talked (loudly) about shopping for new trainers, going on holiday in Spain, and booking in a Spa treatment. About 30 minutes later we saw Ads for Stan Smith Adidas trainers from ASOS and Net-a-Porter, holidays in the Costa del Sol, and two for one Spa treatments in Mayfair: Spooky.

So is the price of relevant advertising too much of a sacrifice to our privacy? Ads relating to our search terms seem fair, and a sensible business model for paying clients and consumers. But picking up on real world conversations and the music we listen to feels a bit invasive. That being said, unwanted irrelevant content is still as irritating online as when you’re walking down the high street getting pestered with free sachets of skin cream.

Finding that happy medium between relevance and privacy will be the challenge that lies ahead.