The ongoing events in Egypt have filled the news with articles on the role of social media in overthrowing repressive governments. Johanna Blakley of USC sheds another light on the role of social media as a powerful tool to overcome traditional gender stereotypes.

Calling her TED talk “Social Media and the End of Gender,” Blakley argues that there is a tremendous upside to having our online behavior monitored and tracked, because it supplies companies seeking to serve our interests with the necessary data to do so more effectively. Whereas traditional marketing relies on assumptions about our preferences based on demographic categories, including gender and age, online user behavior creates a data trail that offers unprecedented opportunities to tailor products to specific interest-based groups, regardless of gender and age. This is especially relevant when it comes to gender stereotypes because women make up the majority of social media participants. But see her visually stimulating argument for yourself:

I welcome Blakley’s argument that there are advantages to collecting and analyzing online user behavior. I was happily surprised to see ask me the other night whether an advertisement interrupting my TV show experience was relevant to me. If you are going to market to me, I prefer it to be relevant to my interests so at least my time isn’t completely wasted. For others who wish to remain as anonymous as possible online, there are browser settings allowing you to delete cookies which help identify you when you visit a site, and you can also use proxy servers giving you maximum privacy protection. There are plenty of opportunities for web users to protect their online privacy.

Not if you ask the Federal Trade Commission whose recent announcement to push for do-not-track regulation has aroused the concerns of many. I discuss this effort in a blog in December, explaining that there are several challenges that would arise from federal internet privacy regulations and that

The best way for consumers to obtain more privacy on the web is to demand privacy by exercising already existing options to make their preferences clear. Do-not-track legislation proposed by the FTC may be good for luring consumers into a false sense of privacy, but real privacy protections are more likely to come from the private sector. The real danger is that government calls for do-not-track, coupled with government-approved self-regulation by industry, succeed at instilling a false sense of privacy in internet users.  Competition among already existing and newly emerging web browsers to provide better privacy protections to their consumers may then be halted to the detriment of internet users concerned with real privacy.