Older blog entries for dmarti (starting at number 530)

With decent algorithms, all user data is personal.

Adam Tanner asks, Where should companies draw the line in collecting information about us in their efforts to sell things? For example, should they catalog medical ailments or physical attributes such as obesity? What about religion, race, or sexual orientation?

Doesn't work. Writing codes of conduct for what's sensitive or secret information about a person, and what's not, is just a sacrifice of perfectly good carpal tunnels.

Once you turn the algorithms loose on a customer data set that's been carefully sanitized of anything medical, ethnic, or otherwise personal, they'll promptly reconstruct it.

It's the Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express problem.

Syndicated 2013-10-31 13:55:07 from Don Marti

Adtech to cookie blockers: STFU, you're tracked anyway

Prediction from inside the Big Adtech filter bubble: Online Advertising, BATNAs & the Failure of Do Not Track by Blair Reeves.

The most promising of those methodologies rely on passive capture digital fingerprinting technology, which identifies the unique combination of your browser configurations, operating system features, font preferences, and dozens of other simple data points to identify a specific user, rather than using a (deletable) browser cookie which lives on a user's device. While this technology isn't widespread yet, it's only a matter of time.

Considering that Firefox has been slow so far to make progress on the fingerprinting problem, does he have a point? Will the browser bugs that allow for fingerprinting remain long enough for adtech to make a relatively smooth shift from cookies to fingerprints?

Spammers had a point about open SMTP relays, too. It took a lot of people a lot of time to close them, but eventually the level of annoyance got high enough that it happened. If I can play Internet optimist for a minute, it's hard to see how the same thing wouldn't happen with the fingerprintability bugs. (My best guess as to how this will play out is that Chrome and MSIE quietly get their bugs fixed first, because Google and Microsoft are both trying to promote their own proprietary user-tracking schemes in place of fingerprinting. Then, while Firefox catches up, those scary business-hating common-sense-norm-enforcing Eurocrats take advantage of the whole continent's breaking out in privacy freakdom to throw the book at the proprietary user-tracking schemes, forcing Microsoft and Google to make them optional. So we end up with the fingerprintability bugs fixed at some point, but with much drama beforehand. In the meantime, each old-school privacy nerd will try something totally different, making old-school privacy nerds the most trackable people of all. And fraud rings will take advantage of confusion of the switch from cookies to fingerprinting to increase their already massive rip-off of the adtech business.)

It's fun to see Reeeves bringing up the old Activists want to block creepy advertising, but consumers love it meme again. I remember when Sanford Wallace was telling us the same story about email spam: how mail server administrators would be forced to take down their spam filters when their users complained about missing all those valuable offers.

I don't know why the refractions from adtech's filter bubble keep making regular people look like exhibitionist "consumers", but that point of view doesn't seem to match up with the data. Maybe we should ask Sanford Wallace where he found his silent majority of email spam fans.

Web ads don't have to participate in the same cycle of growth and senescence as junk faxes and email spam, though. Peak Advertising has a bunch of examples of this kind of slash-and-burn marketing. A new ad medium has great results, then volume and response rates fall as volume and annoyance rise. But in an environment where tracking of individual users is not possible, web ads can become just as powerful and sustainable as print.

Bonus links

What not to do when buying lists Today the U.S. Direct Marketing Association (DMA) spammed a dirty list. (This kind of thing is why legit advertisers need new industry organizations that haven't been captured by creepy Big Data intermediaries, but you knew that.)

Bruce Schneier: The Battle for Power on the Internet On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big.

Syndicated 2013-10-29 13:32:36 from Don Marti

Tough week for creepy marketing

This hasn't been a good week for the surveillance-marketing complex, has it?

Experian Sold Consumer Data to ID Theft Service — Krebs on Security

Google pulls all Android apps linked to adware badness THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED (Is it just me, or did you just blow away all your ad-supported Android apps too?)

Sorry, lobbyists! Europe’s post-Snowden privacy reform gets a major boost (via taint.org: Justin Mason's Weblog)

This Beheading Video Is Brought to You By Nissan

Chrome for the slurp-weary: Cookie-binning Aviator browser arrives

One bright spot is this site, whose ads I see because they're first-party. And it turns out that they have a magazine-line ad sales model, too. The Quartz Way (2) (via Digiday)

Bonus links (making the rounds, but you need to read the whole things)

Stallman: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand?

A Court Order is an Insider Attack

Syndicated 2013-10-24 13:19:00 from Don Marti

An argument for targeted advertising

Corrin Lakeland has an interesting argument for targeted advertising. A niche vendor might not be able to justify the expense of a non-targeted campaign, even if there happens to be a great fit between that vendor's product and a subset of the audience. Someone who goes with just the advertised mainstream brand will end up with a suboptimal choice.

Won't somebody please think of the small businesses?

Unfortunately, even though this is a real problem, the more targeted that advertising gets, the less it helps. I like small businesses, but I'm still running Disconnect to block most targeting and tracking. Why?

Let's use Lakeland's example of carpet. I can go carpet shopping at the store that's been paying Little League teams to wear its name for 20 years, or I can listen to the door-to-door guy who shows up in my driveway and says he has a great roll of carpet that's perfect for my house, and can cut me a deal.

A sufficiently well-targeted ad is just the online version of the guy in the driveway. And the customer is left just as skeptical. Speaking of skeptical customers, Eaon Pritchard looks back at the famous McGraw Hill Man in the Chair ad (read the whole thing), and writes, What this ad is about resonates with me when placed in context of the great digital divide - ie on the one hand the school of advertising, online in particular, that favours the hyper-targeted, 'personal' and data driven tactics that are manifest in the near subterfuge of cookies, tracking and all manner of 'behavioural' targeting. And on the other the approach that favours strategies that contain content, usefulness, values-based communication, involvement, storytelling etc to name but a few.

People have learned to be suspicious of door-to-door home improvement sellers and telemarketers. And people ignore email spam, and choose email services based largely on spam blocking. Now, we're finding targeted web ads "creepy." And when your creepy marketing alarm goes off, that's because your inner economist pulled it.

Are there direct mail and email spam campaigns with good ROI? Yes, but direct marketing is a never-ending parasite/host game. People discard mail printed "bulk," you get USPS to change it to "Standard". Spam filters block one variant of a message, you get crazy with the Unicode and send different ones. Meanwhile, when people don't take advertising personally, it works—and not just as a response rate to a cold call/direct mail/junk fax/email spam/targeted web ad, but as a real signal that will influence people years later.

Non-creepy advertising isn't perfect, and doesn't solve all the customer/vendor match-up problems in the world. We have a lot of non-advertising tools for that. But it's a fallacy to say that just because non-creepy ads have a problem doing something, creepy ads are any better.

Bonus link: The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind by Mike Shields at Adweek. (via Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian)

Syndicated 2013-10-21 04:25:28 from Don Marti

QoTD: Michael Tiffany

The fundamental value proposition of these ad tech companies who are de-anonymizing the Internet is, Why spend big CPMs on branded sites when I can get them on no-name sites?

Michael Tiffany, CEO, White Ops

Syndicated 2013-10-17 13:59:57 from Don Marti

Five-cent guide to how to be a top one percent freelance writer without having to learn to write very well

  1. Always turn in your stuff on deadline, at the right length, in the correct format. Read the contributor's guide and do the basics of what it says. Don't spell anyone's name wrong. Welcome to the top 20%.

  2. Learn your subject to the point where you know more than 3 out of 4 members of the audience. This might be hard or not depending on the subject and how many stories you can sell on related subjects. Get the facts right and answer the questions that an informed reader would ask. Welcome to the top 5%.

  3. Don't just write down a bunch of stuff, tell a story. This takes practice, but there are basic plots that people don't get tired of hearing so you can borrow one of those.

Now you've done it. Congratulations. You're still not getting paid, because some adtech weasels are going to track the people who read your stuff and sell them ads on cat GIFs, so the advertisers can pay some bottom-feeder site instead of the original content site that you write for. But congratulations.

Syndicated 2013-10-16 14:38:02 from Don Marti

QoTD: John Barnes

As a publisher we feel we've been raided by the ad industry. We've done site audits and been flabbergasted by how many third party cookies have been dropped on our site by commercial partners – they were stealing our data.

John Barnes, Incisive Media

Syndicated 2013-10-12 04:59:57 from Don Marti

Making the rounds

Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful is making the rounds.

Doc Searls Weblog

Slashdot interview (Click "Hide/Show Transcript" for text.) Thanks to Roblimo for the opportunity. From the comments: YttriumOxide is using Facebook ads for a book on psychedelics, and Znork makes an interesting point about temporal targeting of users. And an anonymous comment:

The problem is that most people don't understand how advertising succeeds. It does not succeed by eliciting the "Shut up and take my money!" response, as most people assume. If it did, then targeted ads would be the way to go. But "banner blindness" has long been recognized, and click-throughs are generally pathetic.

However, advertising remains successful by subtly, gently shaping your awareness, tastes and motivation on every level from lifestyle, to lifestyle accessories, to brands, to products, to sellers.

Most people resist the notion that they are manipulated in this way, and thus cling to the "logic" of targeted advertising and the belief that it can only benefit them by presenting them with deals for items that they happen to be on a hair trigger to buy.

That model might work, but it is not the model of advertising that works now, and the latter is the point of Marti's argument -- that targeted ads are undermining the existing successful aspects of advertising. Worse, they do so by taking the worst performing facet of advertising, and positing a "fix" that will allow it to replace the best facets.

It isn't just a choice between direct response or subtle manipulation, though. Advertising does carry a signal that it's in your interest to be able to interpret, and the less that the ad is specific to you, the more information about the advertiser's intentions it carries.

In the pre-web media environment, I spent a few minutes of dealing with direct marketing per day, sorting my postal mail and handling cold calls. But I spent a lot more time with the signalful advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on TV. Somehow the balance of how much targeted and non-targeted material I have to deal with has changed a lot. And I get way, way less value from advertising now.

Adtech proponents like to quote John Wanamaker's famous saying, half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half, and, of course, then add that with the next generation of adtech, that waste will go away. But it can't. Advertising is an exchange of value: the advertiser gives information (not just the content of the ad, the signal that the ad exists at all, and where it appears) in exchange for attention. When targeted advertising tries to change the deal, and ask for attention without offering anything in return, users respond by blocking the worthless ads.

Syndicated 2013-10-11 10:54:09 from Don Marti

QoTD: Kate Losse

[I]n the case of big tech companies like Facebook, the way power is structured means that you too are being treated like a feminized, powerless individual regardless of who you are. Facebook assumes that you, its user, aren’t as smart as Facebook’s engineers, that its algorithms know what is best for you, that you won’t notice or care if your privacy is violated, and that even if it violates your privacy or shares your content without asking you it will get away with it. Facebook is the Man, and you are his servant, regardless of your gender or race. On Facebook, we are all women, making ourselves respectable in hopes that society will be nicer to us than it is to others.

Kate Losse

Syndicated 2013-10-03 18:03:43 from Don Marti

Solution to ad blocking

Peter Houston covers the problem of annoying web ads, and the ad blocking that more and more users are turning to, in The solution to ad-blocking? Don't run ads people want to block.

Trying to increase relevance by turning up the creepy level is likely to increase ad blocking, not reduce it. The more that people learn about how targeted advertising works, the less they like.

So when Houston writes, Another potential solution is personalisation-ad targeting based on data profiling-but that raises the concern that advertisers and publishers are overstepping the mark when it comes to targeting promotions using personal data. Anyone that has visited a website only to be mercilessly stalked by its ads for the remainder of their onward journey across the web understands how creepy that can be, he’s half right. But creepy targeting doesn't just fail to help the medium, it hurts.

I have a longer explanation of that, but another way to look at it is this. Conversations, including business conversations, are two-way: both buyer and seller ask for attention and provide information. Real advertising is one-way, but the advertiser is offering information and asking for attention. That’s not just the information in the ad. The ad’s existence, and the fact that it’s running in a certain place, are valuable information about the advertiser’s intentions.

But targeted advertising, like email spam, telemarketing, and cold calling before it, is one-sided. The selling side is both collecting and using information and asking for attention. Humans dislike cold calls so much that we have programmed machines to avoid them, and now people are programming spam filters and ad blockers to dodge them.

Houston is right about making better ads and getting the web to work more like print, but there's still a missing piece. If we really want to increase trust in web advertising as a medium, we need to fix the privacy bugs in browsers that make creepy targeting possible, or at least get out of the way of people who are fixing them. Real advertisers should be backing the Cookie Clearinghouse and similar privacy efforts.

Bonus link: How California’s imminent Do Not Track law falls short – and why it matters anyway

Syndicated 2013-09-24 14:58:17 from Don Marti

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