Tom Cruise should feel flattered. Any time anyone - especially politicians - raises the spectre of evil corporations tracking the movements of consumers and manipulating their minds, invariably Minority Report is cited as a harbinger. And it is the future that many of us fear. Since the Steven Spielberg film was released in 2002 we have been led to believe the technology portrayed in it is the stuff of fantasy.
Yet five years ago, who would have thought addressable advertising - ads that recognise you, or rather your online presence - might make up half of advertising by 2015, as some predict. Or that apps on mobile phones would be an emerging medium, or that tablets such as the iPad would be selling faster than the iPod.
Very few, I imagine, and those who did are almost certainly very rich.
Advertisers would love to get close to the creepy ''foreknowledge'' portrayed in Minority Report so they could predict our every move. Biometrics, the recognition of a physical trait, is already in use. Google's search engine is predictive. Geo-location mapping services such as Facebook's Places will soon help advertisers to see where you are and, just as importantly, where you are likely to be.
But as I stroll down Pitt Street of a morning do I really want a nanosecond's scan of my iris to trigger a Harvey Norman ad telling me where I can get a great deal of a new 3D TV? Though it is doubtful anyone for that matter actually wants a Harvey Norman ad anywhere, any time, it could be useful if I have already embarked on a new search for a TV. Or I could find it an intrusion.
The point is I would like to be able to choose whether an advertiser or publisher should be able to follow me online and serve me up ads, as is becoming prevalent online.
From evidence given at a Senate hearing into online privacy last week, it is clear we do not understand how the information we hand over will be used. Equally opaque is the question of who regulates whom when it comes to the buying and selling of customer information gleaned from Australians and sold to overseas data mining companies. Some of those who gave evidence to the Senate committee said we read the terms and conditions; others said none do. Everyone appeared to agree that even if we did read them we would need a lawyer to help us interpret them. We are still not even sure when an IP address becomes personal information, and therefore falls under privacy legislation.
Facebook did not attend the Senate hearings, so we don't know whether the social networking site thinks it has a duty to inform its users of a change in privacy settings before making those changes, giving the users a choice of continuing to use it or to quit.
The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, told the Senate committee: "What we would like to see as much as possible in that context is choice - choice for the individual to know what is happening and choice to be able to at least opt out, if not opt in to that sort of marketing."
I could not agree more.