Older blog entries for dmarti (starting at number 479)

Nuclear first strike?

Fortunately for advertising in general, Mike Zaneis has it wrong. Blocking third-party cookies would be a free gift to the advertising industry, because reducing trackability would raise the average value of online ads.

It's possible for both of these to be true:

This individual ad will have a higher click-through rate if we personalize it to the user.


Online advertising as a whole will be less profitable if we personalize ads to users.

Which makes it an interesting game theory problem. All advertisers would probably do better if nobody used creepy tracking on users, but if some advertisers track users and others don't, the ones who do might be at an advantage. As long as users believe that "online advertisers track and customize" the non-targeters won't get the credibility benefit they deserve.

Firefox fixing the problem at the client software level in a high-profile way is a win. Advertisers who are first to help with making "creepy tracking" harder will be better prepared for the new post-creepy Web.

Let's not get online advertising in general mixed up with specific creepy tracking techniques.

More: Can privacy tech save advertising?

Syndicated 2013-02-24 22:44:47 from Don Marti

The Hedge

(I wrote this short story a while ago, but the news is catching up fast, so I'd better put it up now.)

"Look, Agent Bellamy, I appreciate you coming out, but it's three in the morning. Can we set up a time to discuss this tomorrow, and can your people check the house while I'm at the office?"

Jack Murphy was too tired to follow some involved technical discussion with the big Intellectual Property Enforcement agent, who sat in Murphy's old steam-bent office chair, briefcase at his feet. Murphy, quickly dressed in chinos and Stanford Law sweatshirt, sat in his new ergonomic chair at a gleaming glass and metal desk. The desk looked out of place in the rambling Maryland house that Linda had found when Murphy accepted the appointment in DC.

"I'm afraid it won't wait, sir," Bellamy said. "Sorry for the unannounced visit, but as you're probably aware, our agency tracks the Free Markets closely."

"The Free Markets? That underground money web site?"

"Yes, basicially. Although it's not really a site, just a system for communicating and trading. That's what makes it so hard to shut down."

"Well, all I know is that if you jailbreak your computer you can get on anonymously and buy drugs or guns or whatever."

"That's right. Let me show you an example." Bellamy pulled a plastic IPEA evidence bag out of his briefcase. Inside was a heavy semiautomatic pistol. It was raw machined steel without the usual blued finish, and a blank slide where the manufacturer's name and serial number would be. The plastic bag, oily on the inside, looked like it was lined with little rainbows. "You can't make steel parts like this on a 3D printer, but you can make parts for a plastic machine that will cut aluminum. Then you can use aluminum parts to make machines that can cut steel. People trade machines, parts and weapons every step of the way. This one's complete, and it works. It was on its way to an underground gunsmith who puts a nice finish on them."

Murphy could see the shiny steel reflected in both of the room's immaculate black windows. "It's like Adam Smith's pin factory."

"Yes. And this piece could have come from any combination of thousands of basement workshops. It's completely untraceable, and infringes a zillion patents. These things are a headache for us, but that's not why I'm here."

Murphy leaned over the desk, and Bellamy continued.

"There's also an online scene called the prediction markets. Oh, hold on, sorry." Bellamy spoke quietly into his jacket cuff. The agents who had arrived with Bellamy were still doing some kind of security sweep of the house. Murphy was glad that Linda was away, dropping Jack Jr. off at college. Security stuff always put her on edge.

"All right. Prediction markets," Bellamy said. "If I want to bet on a football game, I can buy a prediction, say 'Eagles win on Sunday.' If they win, after the game the prediction expires and I get a dollar."

"Sounds like just online gambling. They're just saying 'prediction' instead of 'bet.'" Murphy yawned and shook his head to try to clear it.

"Yes, it's like an ordinary bet in a lot of ways. If the Eagles lose, my prediction expires worthless. Just like losing a bet. But those predictions trade up and down, like stocks and bonds, right up until the end of the game."

"And they're untaxed and anonymous."

"Right. And there are other predictions I could make. I could buy a prediction on 'Jack Murphy dead before October 14th'." And if, for whatever reason, you're no longer with us that day, I make a dollar."

"So is that how the assassination market works? Someone just makes a bet that somebody else will be dead?"

"That's one side of the deal. That's the bet that the assassin makes. Someone else has to take the other side of the bet, and lose. If you want somebody dead, you just place a bet that they'll be alive. You lose your bet, but they get taken care of."

One of the agents who had come in with Bellamy was standing in the office door. His light blue gloves and shoe covers didn't go with his dark blue suit. He was holding Murphy's laptop computer, with Murphy's mobile phone and charger on top.

"We're going to need to check those in the van," Bellamy said. "We'll have them back in ten minutes."

Murphy nodded and the agent turned and left. Bellamy had introduced him but Jack was too tired to remember the name.

"So the original client, or whatever you want to call him, makes a bet, and loses, and the assassin wins, and that's how the assassin gets paid. But you said a dollar. Nobody's going to murder someone for a dollar."

"Right. There has to be some volume in the market for it to be a significant risk. A lot of people have to be willing to buy those predictions of 'Jack Murphy alive.' and lose the money."

"So how is my stock doing?" Murphy knew that DC was still chattering about the news of his surprise appointment. The Secretary was an old colleague from think tank days, but nobody expected that the President would go along with bringing Murphy in. The President was too good a politician not to have his own person in every department's number two spot.

"That's why we're here. There's a lot of volume. A lot of outstanding predictions on you alive."

"They're predicting I'll be alive because they want me dead." Murphy finally yawned and got his hand over it.

Bellamy just continued. "Yes, that's right. The good news is that the administration has an independent fund for protecting appointees. Our agency can't know about it officially, of course. That fund buys the same 'dead' predictions that an assassin would. Makes it less profitable for the assassin. Basically, we play the market to lose. It's expensive, and it's not a hundred percent solution, but it's the best answer so far."

"What about just going after the people who want me dead?"

"Frankly, sir, that wouldn't scale. Between the senior citizens and the cat thing, our market model says that more than four hundred thousand people have some money on you. If you're alive next week, they make a little money. If you're dead, they're happy too."

Murphy was silent.

Bellamy said, "They don't really think of it as gambling. More like they're hedging their exposure to your continued existence."

Murphy looked up. One of the other agents, whose name Murphy didn't remember either, was standing in the doorway. "We're clear, sir. No cameras or devices left. Verified no other residents present. Charlie team is watching the egress. We're good to go."

"All right." Bellamy ripped open the evidence bag and pulled out the raw steel untraceable pistol. The room smelled of some kind of oil.

"What are you doing?" Murphy yelled. His voice went up in a squeak at the end. He grabbed for his desk phone and realized it was gone.

"Sorry, sir," said Bellamy. "But the money in that slush fund has to come from somewhere. Sometimes we play to win."

Syndicated 2013-02-19 13:21:29 from Don Marti

Real Advertising needs a voice

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation bills itself as "Smart Ideas for the Innovation Economy," but what they're putting out there is just a well-summarized version of the conventional wisdom on creepy adtech: The problem is that if users are not tracked, then websites cannot deliver targeted advertising. Instead, websites would only be able to use non-targeted advertising which does not generate as much revenue. Less revenue means less free content and services for Internet users. But privacy advocates are pushing forward, regardless of the consequences.

The conventional wisdom has two key points. First, more creepy stuff means more money for everyone. Second, users don't mind creepy—it's those scary elitist "advocates".

I believe they're wrong on both points. First, the idea that the whole industry can profit by going creepy. I don't doubt that individual ad campaigns can get better click-through rates when targeted. But targeting tends to fuel a race to the bottom for content, and a decrease in signaling power for the medium as a whole. Look at the end of the road adtech is taking, and you'll see email spam already there, funding no content and satisfying no users.

Second, the conventional wisdom says that irresponsible "advocates", not regular users, are behind demands for privacy tech. I wondered about the demand for web ad blockers back in 2009, when hardly anyone was using them. Ad blocking had been around for years as an easy-to-install browser add-on, much easier than a bunch of things that did catch on. But calling it a niche product would have been generous. Nobody did it.

Today, though, ad blocking is is over 9 percent, and spawning at least one startup to help sites deal with it. What changed? Three words: What They Know. This popular Wall Street Journal series started in 2010, and began explaining adtech practices to the public, well enough that the explanation stuck. And a lot of other mainstream media coverage followed. If you believe the conventional wisdom, we should have seen something like: 2009, hardly any ad blocking. 2010, the WSJ explains how well customized those ads are to you. By 2011, ad blocking should disappear, right? Why should I block what's relevant to me? Instead, the opposite happened. People discovered the extent of tracking, and ad blocking finally went mainstream.

In a way, ad blocking is following in the footsteps of spam filters, which were also niche for a long time before they became a must-have. We missed the opportunity to align privacy tech with laws and norms to help everyone, both users and legit advertisers. Shortsighted lobbyists at the DMA got CAN-SPAM passed, which helped the bottom-feeders (who probably don't pay for DMA memberships anyway) but made it a never-ending challenge for legit DMA members to get a legit email newsletter through.

There are a lot of details to work out about how the norms and protocols for online ads have to change, all the way up and down the stack, to support real advertising, and not just direct response. (Firefox is making progress, for example.) But starting with the conventional wisdom on creepy tracking will get us to the wrong place. The real danger here is that the policy conversation about Internet advertising is missing a voice. Somehow, the chair at the debate reserved for Advertising is not occupied by Advertising in general at all—it's been reserved by the vendors of specific creepy techniques.

Syndicated 2013-02-18 15:38:46 from Don Marti

QoTD: Bob Hoffman

Every day, Facebook has an audience that is three times the size of the Super Bowl's audience. That's every day, not just once year. Yet, in its entire history, not a single person has ever mentioned or discussed or remembered a single fucking ad they've ever seen on Facebook.

Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian

Syndicated 2013-02-04 14:24:59 from Don Marti

Notifications and Interruptions: out of style?

Is it just me, or is everyone getting really tired of synchronous communications channels such as IM and phone, and of software notifying them about things?

Steve Pavlina: Please Don’t Interrupt. When you interrupt someone, on average it takes them 23 minutes to get back to the original task, plus up to 30 minutes to return to the flow state so they can be fully productive again. Almost half of the time you interrupt someone, you’ll actually knock them off task completely, such that they won’t return to the original task right away when the interruption ends. You may think you’re only putting them on pause for a minute or two, but the actual break from the task that results from your interruption may be significantly longer.

Joel Gascoigne: Zero notifications: With zero notifications, I feel like I can get my head stuck into a problem much more easily than I did before. I never realised when I had those notifications on that they truly could throw me off my current thought and cause me difficulty getting that focus back. More than anything, I feel a lot calmer. Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all.

Terry Heaton: Bombardment anyone? The advertising industry assumes much in its practices, the biggest of which seems to be an inherent right to disrupt any experience of human beings in order to sell them something.

Stephen O'Grady tried Turning Off Email on his phone and tablet. Over the two weeks I was on break, the difference was startling. Most obviously, I was less focused on my devices, because when I picked them up, they had nothing new to hijack my attention. More subtle was the mental impact. Instead of a relatively constant stream of interruptions coming from inbound email, I checked sporadically, at times of my choosing. Instead of being jarred out of my vacation day by the arrival of an email that I might not have to act upon immediately but which I would unavoidably be turning over mentally while I was supposed to be on vacation, I simply went about the business of enjoying my downtime. It was refreshing.
My first day back from vacation, I debated whether to turn the sync back on. In the end, I did not.

John Scalzi's new voicemail greeting, in Killing My Voice Mail: Hi, this is John Scalzi. I will never ever ever ever listen to the voice mail you’re about to leave, because voice mail is a pain in the ass.

Harald Welte: Why I hate phone calls so much: It is simply impossible to get any productive work done if there are synchronous interruptions. If I'm doing any even remotely complex task such as analyzing code, designing electronics or whatever else, then the interruption of the flow of thoughts, and the context switch to whatever the phone call might be about is costing me an insurmountable amount of my productive efficiency. I doubt that I am the only one having that feeling / experience.

Russell Coker: Phone Calls and Other Distractions. I have configured my laptop and workstation to never alert me for new mail. If I’m not concentrating then I’ll be checking my email frequently and if I am concentrating I don’t want a distraction.

You can trace it all back to Paul Graham's Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule, right?

Or maybe we can trace it all the way back to Prof. Donald Knuth, who wrote, in 1990, Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.

I think we can do better than that. The best early example of the notification-driven life, IMHO, is the 1961 story Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Syndicated 2013-01-20 05:51:14 from Don Marti

sudo yum update moo

Fedora 18 is out. I've been running it since it was alpha, since it seemed stable enough for the new ThinkPad, so not much change here since I first installed it.

Still on GNOME 3.6, which is fine for what I'm using it for. I have added a couple more extensions, though. Now running Applications Menu, Coverflow Alt-Tab, and Workspace Grid.

I haven't tried any of the interesting-looking cloud stuff in this release, but it might be an interesting platform to use to start experimenting with flexible, low-cost private clouds, too. For now, it's good on the laptop.

Syndicated 2013-01-16 05:52:03 from Don Marti

Sunday morning links: journals, robots, insourcing

AnnMaria De Mars explains the difference betweein using open access and non-open-access academic journals: I Purely Love Open Access Journals

Sebastian Marshall collects quotations from William James on habit.

Scott Adams: The Future of Middle Management. I predict that one of the first occupations that will be entirely replaced by robots will be middle management, not skilled labor.

David A. Banks at The Society Pages: State-Sponsored “Slacktivism”: The Social Media Campaigns of the IDF and Hamas

Charles Fishman at The Atlantic: The Insourcing Boom (print version)An exploration of the startling, sustainable, just-getting-started return of industry to the United States.

Kevin Drum for Mother Jones: America's Real Criminal Element: Lead. New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.

Catherine Bracy: Silicon Valley's Problem. Silicon Valley’s problem in a nutshell: crazed about Instagram’s ToS, not a peep about FISA reauthorization.

Syndicated 2013-01-06 15:17:47 from Don Marti

Where's all the legit spam?

Remember CAN-SPAM? This was the US Federal law that overruled state laws on email spam, some of which were strict, and cleared the way for advertisers to send all the spam they wanted, as long as they followed a few basic rules. It was a huge lobbying victory for the Direct Marketing Association.

Today, the data, the tools, and even the law are all there for advertisers to take full advantage of email spam. The CAN-SPAM debate is over. The Internet privacy nerds lost, and database marketing won.

So where is all the CAN-SPAM compliant spam?

After all, it seems like it should be a no-brainer. Spam has everything that's promising about adtech. Web ads promise targeting, but spam has been able to deliver it for a long time. Why aren't advertisers using it?

Let's go back and look at the potential of adtech. In Ad Age, Adam Lehman, COO and General Manager at Lotame, writes, With the enormous variety of information available through the Internet, I am able to do research on running shoes across diverse sources. Based on the interests I express through my research, I may be presented with downstream advertising offers, which I can take or leave.

The key word here is "downstream." Lehman goes to a running site and somehow expresses interest in shoes. Later, while he's browsing some other, possibly unrelated, site, an advertiser "retargets" him with a shoe ad. The "downstream" site can be running whatever the hell is the cheapest content that Lehman is willing to look at at all, because adtech magick will stalk, sorry, retarget him. That's the adtech Holy Grail. Instead of having to place ads on relevant content, an advertiser can chase the user onto cheaper and cheaper sites. (An example of this effect is the problem of ads showing up on infringing sites. When technology starts automatically searching for cheaper and cheaper places to run an ad, it inevitably connects with the Internet's bottom-feeders. But that's another story. If you're in adtech and not reading Chris Castle, the webmasters of skeevy rip-off sites are so far inside your OODA loop that you might as well not bother.)

Anyway, back to spam. What if you took adtech and turned all of its qualities up to 11? Exact user targeting? Sure. Email addresses are in marketing databases already. Save money on content? Can't get cheaper than free. Take every adtech concept and max it out, and you get email spam.

But what's wrong with that? John Battelle writes, It’s actually a good thing that we as consumers are waking up to the fact that marketers know a lot about us – because we also know a lot about ourselves, and about what we want. Only when we can exchange value for value will advertising move to a new level, and begin to drive commercial experiences that begin to feel right. That will take an informed public that isn’t “creeped out” or dismissive of marketing, but rather engaged and expectant – soon, we will demand that marketers pay for our attention and our data – by providing us better deals, better experiences, and better service. This can only be done via a marketing ecosystem that leverages data, algorithms, and insight at scale.

As they say on the Internet, d00d wtf? The first step in me getting a better deal is for the other side to have more information about me, and for me to be engaged and expectant about that? If that's true, advertisers should be able to (1) Dump the company accounting database as CSV (2) Upload it to Wikileaks (3) PROFIT!

Information asymmetries work in favor of the side with more information, and no hippy-dippy talk about "engagement" and "ecosystem" is going to change that. If you know enough about individuals, you can give better offers and service to the high-Whuffie customers, and rip off the rest. Or discriminate in other ways.

IBM is already offering a social analytics package for mobile carriers that will let them see how influential a customer is over the carrier choices of others. From there, carriers can easily partition the support tree into customers worth paying attention to and others. The open question is how close is the relationship between customer-avaiblable social metrics such as Klout and the internal scores. "I have to call support...better get my Klout above 50 or I'll be wasting my time."

But back to email spam. Which is the digital version of direct mail, which is the paper version of a cold call. The problem with that whole kind of communication is that it's based on extremely fine-grained data on the seller's side, and none on the buyer's.

An advertisement that's tied to content, in a clearly expensive way, sends a signal from the advertiser to the buyer. The extreme example here is an ad in a glossy magazine. It'll still be on that magazine years later, and every subscriber gets the same one. Almost ideal from a signaling point of view. The other extreme is a cold call, which carries no "proof of work" or signaling value. All the information is on the seller's side, so the cold call is of no value to the recipient.

Which is why users block email spam. It's worthless. Even spam that complies with CAN-SPAM is worthless.

Now look at web advertising. A web ad is neither magazine ad nor cold call, but somewhere in the middle. The key problem with adtech is that it's moving web ads further and further away from magazine-style, with signaling value, toward spam-style, with no signaling value.

It's no coincidence that as adtech gets "better," users are blocking more ads. If you crank up the targeting far enough, the ads start to carry so little signaling value that the web will become a refuge for bottom-feeder advertisers, the way email spam is today. Adtech's success would be a failure for advertising.

There is a better way, though. And print has it. Fine Homebuilding magazine is actually much more valuable to me because of the ads. I can skip or view them as I choose, and, more importantly, they convey valuable information to me about sellers' intentions to sell and support products. I'd prefer the magazine with the ads to the magazine without them.

We need to start making a distinction between adtech, which is creepy and wrong, and advertising in general. We seem to be going down the path that advertising on the Internet == creepy adtech. But advertising on the Internet in combination with technology and norms that respect privacy can be a good thing. After all, advertising is good for both buyers and sellers when it acts as a public signal of a seller's intentions. This has always been true but will become increasingly obvious as buyer-driven search improves.

So the hard part is making web advertising work more like print advertising. That's going to take good design and UX, and effective sales as well as privacy tech. It's past time to revisit some of the browser design decisions that affect privacy and cross-site tracking. During the dot-com frenzy, the industry made some bad decisions on how to handle third-party cookies and scripts in the browser. Today's browsers are a wretched hive of scum and villainy, privacy-wise. But that's starting to change. Tracking Protection Lists from MSIE are a promising start, and the Firefox scene has a confusing selection of extensions that implement some good privacy improvements that are looking increasingly likely to make it into the mainstream browser.

Online advertising will be worth a lot more when we outgrow creepy adtech. The question is how to allocate the costs of the privacy work—all advertisers will benefit, so it's a classic free rider problem. All advertisers would benefit by raising online advertising's signaling power, which reducing targeting capabilities would do, but a specific ad can perform better if user-targeted.

And even if de-creepifying advertising is the right thing to do, people aren't economically rational. So they don't value each other's freedom even when it's in their best interest economically to do so. Adam Smith: The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen. This comes in The Wealth of Nations right after a long explanation of how free labor is preferable to slave labor from the POV of the employer/owner. We have to be realistic when thinking about adtech's appeal to conventional marketing decision-makers, who could easily prefer a tracked or locked-in customer to one with which the vendor might have a more profitable equitable relationship.

Anyway, that creepy feeling you get from adtech? That's your inner Homo economicus talking—listen up.

Syndicated 2013-01-05 15:17:20 from Don Marti

Sunday links: golden ears, parking, productivity

Do you believe in golden ears? Monty vs. Neil Young on audio codecs.

Paul Barter: Adaptive Parking in a Nutshell. Adaptive Parking aims to make our parking supply and behaviour less rigid and more responsive to changing contexts, including trends away from automobile dependence. By contrast, conventional parking policy tends to lock an over-supply of parking into the landscape, regardless of changing transport preferences and urban market trends.

Productivity advice from Hillary Rettig: “Scope Creep” will Poison Your Projects!

And do code review first, work async, don't keep checking email: Force Multiplying is a great set of productivity tips from Jared Wein at Mozilla.

And if you needed any more time-saving advice, here's Simon Doonan on Why the Art World Is So Loathsome. Thanks, now I don't have to keep up with Art.

And while I'm on a roll: Want to be happier? Stop watching mainstream news by Sebastian Marshall.

Christopher Mims for Quartz: Here comes the first real alternative to iPhone and Android So what makes this group of fewer than 100-odd Finns, most of them refugees from the sinking ship that is Nokia, think they stand a chance?

Blake Madden: PIPELINE: Surf Music’s Rocky Rise, Untimely Death, and Unlikely Return

Syndicated 2012-12-29 17:10:15 from Don Marti

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