Recent blog entries for dmarti

Don't punch the monkey. Embrace the Badger.

One of the main reactions I get to Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful is: why are you always on about saving advertising? Advertising? Really? Wouldn't it be better to have a world where you don't need advertising?

Even when I do point out how non-targeted ads are good for publishers and advertisers, the obvious question is, why should I care? As a member of the audience, or a regular citizen, why does advertising matter? And what's all this about the thankless task of saving online advertising from itself? I didn't sign up for that.

The answer is: Because externalities.

Some advertising has positive externalities.

The biggest positive externality is ad-supported content that later becomes available for other uses. For example, short story readers today are benefitting from magazine ad budgets of the 19th-20th centuries.

Every time you binge-watch an old TV show, you're a positive externality winner, using a cultural good originally funded by advertising.

I agree with the people who want ad-supported content for free, or at a subsidized price. I'm not going to condemn all advertising as The Internet's Original Sin. I just think that we need to fix the bugs that make Internet advertising less valuable than ads in older media.

Some advertising has negative externalities.

On the negative side, the biggest externality is the identity theft risks inherent in large databases of PII. (And it's all PII. Anonymization is bogus.) The costs of identity theft fall on the people whose information is compromised, not on the companies that chose to collect it.

In 20 years, people will look back at John Battelle's surveillance marketing fandom the way we now watch those 1950s industrial films that praise PCBs, or asbestos, or some other God-awful substance that we're still spending billions to clean up. PII is informational haszmat.

The French Task Force on Taxation of the Digital Economy suggests a unit charge per user monitored to address the dangers that uncontrolled practices regarding the use of these data are likely to raise for the protection of public freedoms. But although that kind of thing might fly in Europe, in the USA we have to use technology. And that's where regular people come in.

What you can do

Your choice to protect your privacy by blocking those creepy targeted ads that everyone hates is not a selfish one. You're helping to re-shape the economy. You're helping to move ad spending away from ads that target you, and have negative externalities, and towards ads that are tied to content, and have positive externalities. It's unlikely that Internet ads will ever be all positive, or all negative, but privacy-enabled users can shift the balance in a good way.

Don't punch the monkey. Embrace the Badger.

Syndicated 2014-08-29 13:16:08 from Don Marti

QoTD: Craig Simmons

While ad fraud hurts the brand, every other party benefits from its existence. This alone has buoyed ad fraud's overwhelming survival in the industry. Bot operators, of course, end up pocketing a significant chunk of the $140 billion of overall digital ad spend. But it's not just the botmasters or fraudulent site owners that benefit. Buyers in the space have long been winning incremental budgets from advertisers by buying artificially well-performing impressions. Open exchanges and supply side platforms (SSPs) are responding to a demand for inventory by buying cheap scale from unknown publishers with limited transparency into the quality of those sites.

Craig Simmons

Syndicated 2014-08-26 04:21:47 from Don Marti

Temporary directory for a shell script

Set up a temporary directory to use in a Bash script, and clean it up when the script finishes:

  TMPDIR=$(mktemp -d)
trap "rm -rf $TMPDIR" EXIT

Syndicated 2014-08-22 18:46:57 from Don Marti

Original bug, not original sin

Ethan Zuckerman calls advertising The Internet's Original Sin. But sin is overstating it. Advertising has an economic and social role, just as bacteria have an important role in your body. Many kinds of bacteria can live on and around you just fine, and only become a crisis when your immune system is compromised.

The bad news is that the Internet's immune system is compromised. Quinn Norton summed it up: Everything is Broken. The same half-assed approach to security that lets random trolls yell curse words on your baby monitor is also letting a small but vocal part of the ad business claim an unsustainable share of Internet-built wealth at the expense of original content.

But email spam didn't kill email, and surveillance marketing won't kill the Web. Privacy tech is catching up. AdNews has a good piece on the progress of ad blocking, but I'm wondering about how accurate any measurement of ad blocking can be in the presence of massive fraud. Fraudulent traffic is a big part of the picture, and nobody has an incentive to run an ad blocker on that. The results from the combination of fraud and use of privacy tools are unpredictable. Paywalls are the obvious next step, but there are ways for sites to work with privacy tools, not against them.

What Ethan calls pay-for-performance is the smaller, and less valuable, part of advertising. Online ads are stuck in that niche not so much because of original sin, but because of an original bug. When the browsers of Dot-Com Boom 1.0 came out in a rush with support for privacy antifeatures such as third-party tracking, the Web excluded itself from lucrative branding or signaling advertising. The Web became a direct-response medium like email spam or direct mail. Bob Hoffman said, The web is a much better yellow pages and a much worse television. But that's not inherent in the medium. The Web is able to carry better and more signalful ads as the privacy level goes up. That's a matter of fixing the privacy bugs that allow for tracking, not a sin to expiate.

Recent news, from Kate Tummarello at The Hill: Tech giants at odds over Obama privacy bill. Microsoft is coming in on one side, and a group of mostly surveillance marketing firms calling itself the united voice of the Internet economy is on the other. There's no one original sin here, but there's plenty of opportunity in fixing bugs.

Bonus links

Jeff Jarvis: Absolution? Hell, no

Jason Dorrier: Burger Robot Poised to Disrupt Fast Food Industry

BOB HOFFMAN: Confusing Gadgetry With Behavior

Syndicated 2014-08-17 12:21:35 from Don Marti

Point of order: social buttons

This is a quick privacy check.

(If you're reading this on the full-text RSS feed, or a site that consumes it, please click through. It won't take long. If you're looking at this on the blog homepage, please click the title to look at the individual post. The buttons are only on the individual post pages.)

Do you see the "social sharing" buttons at the bottom of this post, at the end of the text but above the miscelleneous links and blogroll? I just got an automated report that people are actually clicking them.

If your privacy tools are up to date, you shouldn't be seeing any big web site logos here. The sinister buttons should be blocked by any halfway-decent privacy tool.

If you do see the buttons, please get Disconnect or Privacy Badger.

If you don't see the buttons, you're already doing something that's making a difference. Carry on.

If you have a privacy tool installed and think you should be protected, but are seeing the buttons anyway, please let me know and I'll help you troubleshoot it.

Syndicated 2014-08-03 15:00:28 from Don Marti

Newspaper dollars, Facebook dimes

Hard to miss the Facebook earnings news this week.

Facebook earnings beat expectations as ad revenues soar

Facebook Beats In Q2 With $2.91 Billion In Revenue, 62% Of Ad Revenue From Mobile, 1.32B Users

Let's take a look at those numbers. (I'd like to fill in more and better data here, so any extra sources welcome.)

Mobile ads: 62% of ad revenues.

Total US ad revenue: $1.3 billion.

Which would make mobile US revenue about 800 million. (Other countries are heavier on mobile, so this might even be high.)

Americans spend 162 minutes on a mobile device per day of which 17% is Facebook. So figure about 28 minutes per day on average. (Average of all US "consumers", not just mobile or Facebook users.)

That's double the time spent reading the printed newspaper.

US users spend an average of 14 minutes/day on printed newspapers. (Average of newspaper readers and non-readers. Just print, not web or mobile.)

But how are newspapers doing with the ad revenue?

Even after a sharp decline, newspaper print ad revenue in the USA is at $17.3 billion/year. That's the 2013 number, so it's reasonable to expect it to continue to come down as newspaper-reading time continues to decline.

Let's say it comes down another 10 percent for this year (which is faster than trend) and take a quarter of that. That's $3.9 billion.

So the newspaper brings in more than four times as much ad money by being in front of users for half the time. The newspaper completely lacks all the advanced behavioral targeting stuff, and Facebook is full of it.

What's going on here? Why is Facebook—the most finely targeted ad medium ever built—an order of magnitude less valuable to advertisers than the second-oldest low-tech ad medium is?

Here's my best explanation so far for the "print dollars to digital dimes" problem.

Advertising is based on a two-way exchage of information. You, the reader, give advertising your attention. Advertising gives you some information about the advertiser's intentions. That's often not found in the content of the ad. The fact that it's running in a public place at all is what builds up your mental model of the product, or brand equity.

On the other hand, advertising that's targeted to you is like a cold call or an email spam. You might respond to it at the time, but it doesn't carry information about the advertiser's intentions. (For example, you might be the one sucker who they're trying to stick with the last obsolete unit in the warehouse, before an incompatible change.)

As Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian, wrote, Online advertising has thus far proven to be a lousy brand-building medium. Walk through your local supermarket or Target or Walmart and see if you can find any brands built by online advertising. So what is web advertising good for? Thus far, it has been effective at search and moderately effective at a certain type of direct response.

Without the signaling/brand building effect, those targeted Facebook ads don't pull their weight, and come in at less valuable than newspaper ads.

I'm not saying we should go back to dead trees, but clearly mobile is leaving money on the table here. What's the solution? Paradoxically, it's going to have to involve some privacy tech on the user's end—preventing some of the one-sided data flow towards advertisers in order to introduce signaling effect.

More: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful

Syndicated 2014-07-26 14:43:05 from Don Marti

How to beat adtech fraud: REGISTER ALL HUMANS

Ted McConnell, on AdExchanger: Advertising Fraud: It’s Time For Asymmetrical Warfare.

When you have an enemy that’s shape-shifting, agile, belligerent, invisible, greedy, fast and brilliant, you have a problem. Welcome to what military strategy people call asymmetrical warfare. It looks like terrorism. They lie about their identity. They only have to be right once. There are no lines in the sand. You can’t tell them from the good guys. They adapt.

I's actually worse than that. The best fraud rings only have to be better than the worst ad networks. The fraud perpetrators get to pick which network to attack, while the network doesn't get to pick which fraud perpetrators it deals with. The feedback for fraud is relatively quick. It's cheap and easy to try it on a small scale by buying or generating a little bit of bad traffic and seeing what happens. It's easy to decouple the parts of fraud that you're good at from the parts that you need help on, because that's how adtech is networked to begin with. Finally, the expected consequences of failure are small.

Where this piece gets problematic is in suggested solutions for dealing with the adtech fraud problem while keeping the adtech system intact. (Adtech, privacy, and fraud control, you can only have two.) Of course, this means abandoning privacy.

For example, "Make a publicly provided 'white list' of humans, accessible as a service to all transactions," and "tighten up Internet access...make sure an antivirus is in place." So in order to beat adtech fraud, McConnell wants to have (1) a white list of all humans and (2) control over all client systems (to verify that antivirus). Even the DRM maximalists didn't get that much.

And what happens while this perfect system of total control is being rolled out? Older clients, and humans who aren't on the white list of humans, will still be out there, so most of the fraud gets to continue. And by the time the system of control is in place, someone will subvert it for legit reasons.

If total Internet lockdown isn't going to happen, how do you beat fraud? A better answer is to turn the privacy up, not down: Adtech fraud: you can't cheat an honest man.

Bonus links:

Jon Udell: It’s time to engineer some filter failure

Atul: Does Privacy Matter?

Tim Peterson: Angry Birds Maker Rovio Points Finger at Ad Networks Over NSA Data Leak

Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau: IAB Head: 'The Digital Advertising Industry Must Stop Having Unprotected Sex' (via The Drift from Upstream)

David Rogers: Bad adbots and the vanishing CMO

Robin Hanson: Why Do Firms Buy Ads?

Ted Dhanik: We're All Responsible for Click Fraud and Here's How to Stop It

Doug Weaver: Dead internet ideas: The "right" to target

Syndicated 2014-07-22 12:20:02 from Don Marti

Surfacing, not hiding, the creepy?

Let's look at the scorecard for the surveillance marketing game. The mainstream coverage would choose up sides like so:

  • Advertisers (brand and direct reponse)
  • Adtech vendors
  • Ad-supported sites
  • Authors
  • Users
  • Platform vendors

vs.

  • Elitist Internet greybeards
  • Privacy hackers
  • Unaccountable Eurocrats
  • Fraud perpetrators

Not so good for the privacy side. But if you do some research, the scorecard probably actually looks like so:

  • Direct response advertisers
  • Low-value ad-supported sites
  • Adtech vendors
  • Fraud perpetrators
  • Dominant platform vendor

vs.

  • Brand advertisers
  • High-value ad-supported sites
  • Authors
  • Users
  • Elitist Internet greybeards
  • Privacy hackers
  • Unaccountable Eurocrats
  • Smaller/new platform vendors

Quite a difference. If you're a platform vendor using privacy as a selling point, how do you make the user aware of it? Most platforms try to conceal tracking. But if you're working with the creeped-out feeling instead of trying to soothe it, you need to give the user a little hint of, "Gosh, I'm glad I didn't step in that!" in the same way that a mail application shows you the count of messages in your spam folder. For example, users could get a notification when entering the range of a new wireless shopper tracker, then have the option to hush it up.

The dreaded "Do you want to accept this cookie?" dialog could even be simplified. Instead of presenting the cookie with no context, you could get...

Do you want to accept tracking by example.com? This site appears on the following lists:

  • Companies that Hate Freedom (Freedom Lovers of America)

  • Puppy Kickers List (International Puppy Lovers League)

Block this site / Block all sites covered by both of these lists / Accept tracking

The challenge is to add just enough "look how I'm protecting your privacy—aren't I a good little device?" to keep the user uneasy when he or she uses something else.

Syndicated 2014-07-19 14:07:47 from Don Marti

Opportunity in surveillance marketing consolidation?

In the surveillance marketing business, a bunch of companies that started off in different places have all ending up doing the same thing. A company that started as a 1980s dial-up online service is competing with a company that started as a 1990s web portal and both are competing with social networks and post-bro lean 21st-century whatevers. It's like sailors, merchants, and farmers all abandoning their original occupations and all headed out to pan for the same gold.

But is the surveillance marketing gold rush coming to its natural end? Are we entering the consolidation phase, at least on mobile devices? Derek Thompson: A Handful of Tech Companies Own the Vast Majority of Mobile Ads. Google, Facebook, Pandora, Twitter, and Apple have 75%, and a quarter of the pie is left for the rest.

So what happens to the losers?

As soon as you accept that your company is a loser in the surveillance marketing game, you get to stop repeating the same old Big Data jive and come up with something new. As far as I can tell, everyone on the whole Lumascape has the same Unique Selling Proposition. Which is not really the point as uniqueness goes.

Look, it's a basic marketing exercise. Lots of variants, but basically, you try to fill in something like this.

[Product] is the only [category] that [benefit] for [market] by [core competency].

Ready? Here goes.

[example.com] is the only [adtech intermediary] that [maximizes ROI] for [advertisers] by [creepy data collection and difficult math].

The "only" looks funny there, doesn't it? That is exactly as differentiated as:

[Joe Bloggs] is the only [random guy panning for gold] who [finds the most gold] by [panning for gold in this spot right here].

Boring. It's a recipe for consolidation of an industry. So losing could be the best thing that ever happened to you.

What's the alternative? Well, Microsoft seems to have part of the answer. Violet Blue writes, Second, using Android phones, I'm Google's lab rat and fighting back a continual invasiveness from a company that's really starting to freak me out.

Now we're getting somewhere. Sounds like a point of actual differentiation to me.

What if a vendor used its marketing power to amplify user feelings of unease about surveillance marketing, instead of trying to soothe them? Work with the creeped-out feeling, not agagainst it? Let's do that USP exercise again.

[Microsoft] is the only [productivity platform vendor] that [protects mental and economic integrity] for [users] by [blocking attempts to collect information about you].

That's something to work with, but it's just the start. A message without anything to back it up is as useless as the Scroogled campaign. Pointless. But if you build a security and privacy story keeping the USP in mind, within a couple of releases you've got something.

Clearly nobody in the IT industry is ready to give up getting a piece of the surveillance marketing business yet. But for whoever does first, the opportunity is waiting.

Bonus links

BOB HOFFMAN: The Dumbest People On Earth?

Tim Fernholz: Does the advertising business that built Google actually work?

Alex Kantrowitz: Ad-Tech Companies Form Group to Standardize User ID

The Tech Block: The truth about Google and evil

John Gruber: Privacy as a Competitive Advantage for Apple

BOB HOFFMAN: Misintermediation

Ricardo Bilton: Publishers’ plug-in addiction can come back to haunt them

Christof Wittig: Why mobile advertising isn’t as huge as it’s hyped to be (yet)

eaon pritchard: does culture really eat strategy for breakfast?

datacoup: What the brokers have broken: Shifting the conversation from Privacy to Control

Sam Thielman: This Is How Your Financial Data Is Being Used to Serve You Ads

MediaPost | Metrics Insider: Why Offline Data Is Key To Online Data Segmentation

MediaPost | Mobile Insider: Get This Crap Off My Phone: We Are Screwing Up The Mobile Experience

Lee Hutchinson: Op-Ed: Microsoft layoff e-mail typifies inhuman corporate insensitivity

Syndicated 2014-07-18 11:21:48 from Don Marti

You know what they put on their database marketing companies in Europe?

You know what they put on their database marketing companies in Europe?

What?

Regulation.

Goddamn.

I've seen 'em do it, man. They ------ drown 'em in that ----.

photo of conversation

Massive culture shock alert for this paper by Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius: Consent to Behavioural Targeting in European Law: What Are the Policy Implications of Insights from Behavioural Economics? (PDF) Yes, in Europe, addressing privacy problems with government regulation is actually a thing. I guess that they have a different approach to Internet regulation in general (how's that right to be forgotten thing working?).

It's different here. In the USA, it's impossible to put the words "privacy" and "regulation" in the same sentence with a straight face. You know that some Lester at the Direct Marketing Association is going to make sure that any privacy regulations turn out to be more like anti-privacy regulations. (Remember how CAN-SPAM turned out?)

Here, instead of hoping for benevolent pro-privacy Eurocrats to protect us from surveillance marketing, we have to take a private sector approach to the problem. Fortunately, the privacy interests of end users coincide with the interests of other parties.

For example, legit publishers might choose to address the audience snatching problem by putting some interesting content behind a reverse tracking wall. (Tune in with privacy tech enabled and get an interview or concert; use an out-of-the-box targeting-enabled browser, and get a privacy tutorial instead.) (This may already be the plan at the New York Times—anyone else noticed a lot of first-party ads there? If Disconnect and Privacy Badger adoption went up, the NYT would be in a good position to handle it.)

The other problem is where regulation can be actively harmful. The more complex the adtech stack between advertiser and audience, the more fraud. Some fraud is inherent in highly intermediated adtech. The win for fraud rings is that adtech fraud isn't even illegal. It's against the terms of service of the ad networks, but that's it.

If we get "tough" anti-fraud laws here, it could result in artificially low costs for adtech intermediaries, along with privacy risks for users subject to anti-fraud tracking. The good news here is that the interests of Big Copyright and Surveillance Marketing are in conflict. Making the world safe from adtech fraud makes it safe for "brand-supported piracy."

Users, brand advertisers, and content creators all have an interest in creating a non-targetable medium, one that works more like magazine ads than like spam or direct mail. Adtech intermediaries and fraud rings are the only winners from the targeting-driven race to the bottom. So it should be possible to beat them without relying on the public sector. After all, regulators, even in Europe, are likely to have more and more difficulty promising strong privacy protections, because they'll be negotiated away in secret "trade" talks with the USA.

Syndicated 2014-07-12 14:28:00 from Don Marti

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