We know where you live!
May 20, 2004 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Reason magazine uses individualized data to give its subscribers a '1984'-style surprise. The idea surfaced a year ago at a cocktail party: What if you opened your mailbox to find a national magazine with your name on the cover and the headline "They Know Where You Live!" — under an aerial photo of your house? And what if, when you turned the page, the editor's note and the advertisements included details about your neighbors? (LA Times/Reg. Rqd)
posted by ColdChef (23 comments total)

Yes, the privacy implications of a "database society" are freaky. Yes, only advertisers and law enforcement are in favor of the loss of privacy.

What I can't figure out (not being familiar with Reason) is whether they are for the availability of this kind of information. I'm also wondering how much it costs to do 40 000 personalized issues of a magazine.
posted by Grod at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2004

I believe Reason is a strongly libertarian magazine. Named "Reason" in the fine tradition of libertarians making that case that the only logical philosophy is theirs, and any other political philosophy is irrational and emotional.

Thus this quote: "Living in a database nation raises innumerable privacy concerns," writes Gillespie in the June issue. "But it also makes life easier and more prosperous. We may have kissed privacy goodbye -- and good riddance, too.". This is all swell to devout libertarians.

(I like making fun of libertarians, but I'm not sure I actually disagree with them on this issue, as long as the lack of privacy cuts both ways, which would require a much strong FOIA than we've got right now).
posted by malphigian at 12:53 PM on May 20, 2004

From Planetizen: Reason Public Policy Institute is a public policy think tank promoting choice, competition, and a dynamic market economy as the foundation for human dignity and progress. The Reason Foundation is a national research and education organization that explores and promotes public policies based on rationality and freedom. Reason is the monthly print magazine that covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews.

I read a really good article about the Reason Covers, but for the life of me can't remember where. Drat!
posted by shoepal at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2004

Isn't this a double post? This was definitely on Slashdot at least a month ago, and I thought it migrated over here.
posted by keswick at 12:59 PM on May 20, 2004

NYT article (reason's mirror)
Reason has a blog.
posted by shoepal at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2004

I'm also wondering how much it costs to do 40 000 personalized issues of a magazine.

That was my first thought as well. And how high the ROI would be...and how on earth they pitched and sold the idea to the publisher.

On the privacy vs database nation thing, it's a double edged sword really. Real hackers...not script kiddies...have often quoted the manifesto that "all information should be free". And in some sense, it probably should. Just as corporations have full and unfettered access to our information, so too should we have full and unfettered access to information about toxic spills, eminent domain for the benefit of a corporation, taxes paid or not paid, all kinds of interesting information that doesn't make it into the stockholder reports.

But the fact of the matter is that it's only individuals who suffer the indignity of having all of their information available for public perusal. Corporations, and the wealthy people who run them are so insulated as to be invisible to information hunters.

As an example...you as a consumer must pay to find out what records are being kept about your credit history....but there is no amount of money you can spend that will tell you what chemicals have been dumped in the river upstream of your home.

I put it to you that we have nothing more to lose in the privacy arena...and much to gain by forcing openness in the business and political arenas. Ergo, I think that "all information should be free" takes on a new, more powerful, and drastically necessary importance.
posted by dejah420 at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2004

Doesn't appear to be a doublepost.
posted by shoepal at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2004

all information should be free

More commonly, "information wants to be free." I.e. as technology progresses, information will inevitably tend towards being free (i.e. available to all.) This is the reasoning behind the idea that the RIAA, for example, is fighting a hopelessly losing battle against filesharing.

The corporations and government already have access to virtually everything they need. Giving that information to everyone will help balance the scales. It's a bad but inevitable side effect that "everyone" includes stalker ex-boyfriends and terrorists, foreign and homegrown.
posted by callmejay at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2004

malphigian - i don't think libertarians believe they have a monopoly on logic and reason. i understand it's simply that they value it so much. Where some philosophies place god, good will, knowledge (etc) at the core of their belief structure, Libertarians value logic and reason.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:33 PM on May 20, 2004

If I had known, I would have subscribed to Reason just for this cover.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:39 PM on May 20, 2004

On a semi-related note, I've just discovered that washingtonpost.com has a Federal employee lookup page. With that and the OPM's pay tables, you can find out how much most Federal employees make. Whee!
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:46 PM on May 20, 2004

My family subscribes to Time magazine, and it occasionally has personalized ads.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:17 PM on May 20, 2004

I did subscribe for the cover. It wasn't the only reason, but it did provide the final motivation.

Magazine staff have stated in the Reason forum that this was partially subsidized by other companies interested in using it as an example. The NY Times article agrees.

This reminds me of the Maxim "We love your city the best!" trick from a while ago.
posted by dragoon at 3:17 PM on May 20, 2004

The personalized ads are usually the black & white ones.
posted by smackfu at 4:26 PM on May 20, 2004

malphigian - i don't think libertarians believe they have a monopoly on logic and reason. i understand it's simply that they value it so much. Where some philosophies place god, good will, knowledge (etc) at the core of their belief structure, Libertarians value logic and reason.

see, you basically just supported malphigian's claim - you basically said that other philosophies put other things at the center, while libertarianism puts reason at the center. But isn't it perfectly logical that other philosophies could also put reason at the center, and still draw different consequences?

One of the tricky things about reason - about philosophy in general - is that you must start from somewhere. Reasoning is an activity, but you begin with certain assumptions and values. A utilitarian uses reason to reach his conclusions, but begins with a higher value on "overall good" rather than "personal good"; a Kantian uses reason, but begins with an assumption of every human being as an end in himself, and the universalizability of moral choice. Etc.

A great portion of philosophical history is based around reason, although not all philosophers see it as necessarily divorced (some would say in fact it cannot be divorced) from feelings and values and meaningfulness and various other things.
posted by mdn at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2004

all information should be free

So give me your credit card number.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:09 PM on May 20, 2004

So give me your credit card number.

You totally missed the point, didja?
posted by dejah420 at 5:22 PM on May 20, 2004

The NPR story, linked above as well, is an interesting listen. The Editor mentions they don't know the full cost of this 45,000 custom print was, but right now the cost is about only $5,000 above the normal run. The laser print type technology allows them to do this quickly and rather cheaply. They still have to add in the custom programming, but now that it's done, of course this can be used over and over and over at minimal cost.

I want my issue, but I still want this group around.
posted by fluffycreature at 6:32 PM on May 20, 2004

I got one of the magazines (and, oddly enough, am not a subscriber; it just showed up in my mailbox.) It was an oddly effective technique, because it had me reading through the whole magazine wondering what else had been tailored to each subscriber.

The weird part is that my first thought was not, "hmm, that's my name on the cover," it was "huh, that photo looks familiar."
posted by ook at 8:46 PM on May 20, 2004

callmejay has the right of it: the phrase, information wants to be free, is an attempt to describe the way information behaves, not an attempt to advocate some particular human behaviors.
posted by hattifattener at 11:51 PM on May 20, 2004

Hahah, tried ook's link to USGS satellite imagery of my house. It's about 4+ years old, because there's an empty lot right where my house should be.

I'd like to see another example of the Reason covers. I'm curious what goes into 40,000 magazine covers.
posted by xtian at 10:21 AM on May 21, 2004

You totally missed the point, didja?

Yeah, sorry about that, sensitive area.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:20 PM on May 21, 2004

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