What can we do about the privacy threat posed by online ad networks? And how much trust should we place in Silicon Valley to design the future of our society? What Happens Next Will Amaze You: Slides from a recent talk by (Mefi's own) Maciej Cegłowski.
It's no accident how much the ad racket resembles high-frequency trading. A small number of sophisticated players are making a killing at the expense of everybody else. [...] I don't believe there's a technology bubble, but there is absolutely an advertising bubble. When it bursts, companies are going to be more desperate and will unload all the personal data they have on us to absolutely any willing buyer. And then we'll see if all these dire warnings about the dangers of surveillance were right.[more inside]
Late last year, a number of outlets reported that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless were injecting customer-identifiable, permanent tracking cookies into web requests. After this activity was made public, AT&T ceased injecting the cookies, claiming that they were only testing the practice. Verizon, however, did not. Now, computer scientist and lawyer Jonathan Mayer at Stanford University has reported that Verizon's advertising partner The Turn is using these super cookies to re-instate tracking cookies after a user clears their browser cache. [more inside]
"Advertising is not well. Though companies supported by advertising still dominate the landscape and capture the popular imagination, cracks are beginning to show in the very financial foundations of the web. Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online. The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web is slowly, but perceptibly beginning to falter. Consider the long-term trend: when the first banner advertisement emerged online in 1994, it reported a (now) staggering clickthrough rate of 78%. By 2011, the average Facebook advertisement clickthrough rate sat dramatically lower at 0.05%. Even if only a rough proxy, something underlies such a dramatic change in the ability for an advertisement to pique the interest of users online. What underlies this decline, and what does it mean for the Internet at large? This short [PDF] paper puts forth the argument for peak advertising—the argument that an overall slowing in online advertising will eventually force a significant (and potentially painful) shift in the structure of business online. Like the theory of Peak Oil that it references, the goal is not to look to the immediate upcoming quarter, but to think on the decade-long scale about the business models that sustain the Internet." [more inside]
"These big collections of personal data are like radioactive waste. It's easy to generate, easy to store in the short term, incredibly toxic, and almost impossible to dispose of. Just when you think you've buried it forever, it comes leaching out somewhere unexpected." A talk by Maciej Ceglowski, founder of Pinboard, about why we have Big Data and why it's frightening. [more inside]
The European Commission is resisting pressure from US firms and public bodies designed to derail its privacy proposals, which include a limited 'right to be forgotten' that would allow users to demand their data be removed from Internet sites. Facebook claims it would actually harm privacy by requiring social media sites to perform extra tracking to remove data which has been copied to other sites. Google says it's unworkable. Others say it would be a threat to the American right to free speech. Big Data hates the idea because privacy is bad. Meanwhile, advertising may soon follow you from one device to the next -- privately. (Via) [more inside]
Visa and MasterCard have decided to start selling information about your purchasing history to advertisers. [more inside]
The Wall Street Journal's What They Know blog is charged with determining what information marketers are capable of learning about internet users through tracking technology. This weekend, they took aim at Facebook, after their investigation discovered that many popular apps on the social-networking site, including those by Zynga, have been transmitting identifying information in the form of User ID's to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, even if a user has enabled strict privacy settings. Additional analysis. Response post on Facebook's Developer Blog. Forbes' blogger Kashmir Hill asks if the WSJ is overreacting, and Techcrunch notes that the severity and risks of UID transferral are still being debated.
The Wall Street Journal investigates web snoops. The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used to conduct the study. Only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none. Twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.'s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.'s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal's test. [more inside]
This morning, Google launched a new feature called "Google Dashboard" that lets users view (and in some cases control,) what data is being stored on a range of more than 20 Google services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Web History, Orkut, YouTube, Picasa, Talk, Reader, Alerts and Latitude. [more inside]
Over the past couple of years, Facebook has become increasingly popular, until it seemed like everyone and their grandma was joining up. A new feature, called Facebook Beacon, lets corporations join the fray. Might this be cause for concern? [more inside]
A Marketing and Promotional Urinal Screen - I mean - WTF? Is there nowhere I can go and not be bombarded by advertising...now when I go for a 'slash' I can be detected 'visiting' the urinal, and a pre-recorded voice can 'interact' with me while I read the graphics. Honestly, I never, ever, ever wanted to interact whilst standing at a urinal...please don't make me start interacting in there!
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)
TiVo to Sell User Viewing Data TiVo executives said they will be gathering information only in aggregate, such as by ZIP code and that the habits of individual users will remain anonymous. However, not everyone agrees that TiVo can't/isn't tracking individual viewing habits. And now advertisers will be able to see exactly how many commercials we're all zipping past.
How willing are you to whore yourself? City buses have been doing it for years. Now an ad company is willing to give you a free car for two years if you're willing to drive a mobile billboard for them. Ideal candidates live in busy urban and suburban areas, park on the street, and get stuck in traffic all the time. You pay for insurance and gas, and they take care of the rest (including maintenance). Or have your current car wrapped with advertisements and get up to $400 a month. The company will also entice you with free concert tickets if you'll drive the vehicle to the show.
Unknowingly sending all your personal finance information through the servers of a sleazy ad service: Priceless. Do you pay your AMEX bill online at americanexpress.com? If you do, you should know that you're being ported through the ad.doubleclick.net advertising service. Mouse over the links on the AMEX homepage and see. All your information travels through doubleclick's servers on its way to AMEX. Nice, huh?
FTC ends investigation of DoubleClick and finds no evidence of wrongdoing. I don't know about you, but I feel cheated. Don't forget to opt out of their cookie-bending racket.
I'll believe this when DoubleClick changes their darn policy. Sure, they've also recently said they'll postpone their new identifying database. How about to "never"?
Net advertising behemoth DoubleClick has been quietly buying up marketing databases to allow it to match up your DoubleClick cookie with your name and address. Time to opt out.