Gawker recently reported on the darnedest thing: a redditor who goes by the screen name the_mastor claims to have had the virtual finger pointed at him when he bought a perfectly innocent jewelry scale online—an item that, according to Amazon, is popular amongst professionals in the field of drug dealing. At least that is what’s implied by their “Customers Also Bought” section which was plentiful with baggies, rolling papers and roach filters.
Of course the_mastor was deeply offended as he was only buying the scale to weigh foods for his own meal supplement concoction (as an Angeleno, I can’t believe Amazon never considered this) but this isn’t an un-relatable story. I can’t be the only one who has gone to buy a pair of eyelash curler replacement pads online only to find my cart filled with a $40 eye shadow brush and a lip plumper after learning what my cyber peers unknowingly recommended. But it never really occurred to me that this is a form of stereotyping—that somewhere there’s a record of everything I have purchased online that might be used to discern what kind of person I am. Oy, let the shame spiral begin!
A Threat to Privacy and Anonymity
Petty guilty purchases aside, what about serious purchases that could—purely theoretically speaking—be used against us? For example, If I opt to get an Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book on Amazon rather than picking one up at a meeting, who out there now assumes I struggle with a drinking problem? Seems I am blowing my anonymity before I even walk into a meeting; or worse, learning that customers who bought the Big Book also bought cat food and tarot cards. Yikes! Seems smarter to just bite the bullet and buy your How to Turn Your Kitchen Into a Weekend Meth Lab book in an actual book store (if you can find an actual book store) because no amount of free shipping will make up for an unexpected police raid at your next dinner party.
But I’ll admit that if given the choice, I wouldn’t support a ban against “Customers Also Bought” sections, no matter what the Big Brother implications are. I’m an avid (okay, addicted) online shopper and I’m often in need of advice on complimentary items for a purchase. For that reason alone, I feel kind of bad talking smack about it—something I can’t say for the oddly similar yet totally awful “People You May Know” section of Facebook (talk about potential anonymity breaking: if we only have sober friends in common, how can I not assume the person is a fellow drug/booze hound?) Now that one I will definitely vote off the island.
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