Does Internet advertising work at all?

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson asks a dangerous question: Does Internet advertising work at all? My gut answer is that it can’t be terribly effective. Thompson sums up my personal instinct about advertising perfectly: “We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.”1

Also, online advertising is plagued with problems like misleading stats reporting and the ‘I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway bias':

Let’s say I want to buy a pair of glasses. I live in New York, where people like Warby Parker. I’ve shopped for glasses at Warby Parker’s website. Facebook knows both of these things. So no surprise that today I saw a Warby Parker sponsored post on my News Feed.

Now, let’s say I buy glasses from Warby Parker tomorrow. What can we logically conclude? That Facebook successfully converted a sale? Or that the many factors Facebook considered before showing me that ad—e.g.: what my friends like and my past shopping behavior—are the same factors that might persuade anybody to buy a pair of glasses long before they signed into Facebook?

Maybe Facebook has mastered the art of using advertising to convert sales. Or maybe it’s mastered the art of finding people who were going to buy certain items anyway and showing them ads after they already made their decision. My bet is that the answer is (a) somewhere in the middle and (b) devilishly hard to accurately measure.

Nothing in this article was surprising, but it did make me wonder if this might be the most effective way to fight to get our online privacy back? In other words, rather than fighting Google or Facebook et al, why not reveal how ineffective the kind of crappy advertising that has made those companies some of the biggest in the world really is? If that money falls away, so will these corporate surveillance industries.


Dat footnote

  1. However, I do think that ‘brand awareness’ is a powerful side effect of good advertising, but this is hard to achieve with text ads or even flashing banners and annoying popovers.

“It’s not like they’re peering into my home when I’m naked or anything”

Quote

So one of my comments on The Guardian got screenshotted and Tweeted. #fartooproudofmyself

About these ads

Why Klout thinks you are ‘special’

Klout style matrix One of the most fascinating metrics Klout produces is your ‘style’. What could be an interesting insight into the character of a user is instead written in much the same way as a horoscope. I imagine most web users would get a nice ego stroke reading whichever short description happens to apply to them.

I’ve reproduced the list for convenience. Skip to the bottom for my other thoughts on Klout. (Spolier: I think it’s really bad news.)

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Facebook privacy fuckup reveals who has your number in their phonebook

Reason 5,395 not to use Facebook:

[…] At first I was baffled – I guessed maybe Facebook had copied something across from my previous account via a cookie or similar. But it turns out that FB used my mobile number (which they took as a security check) to match up with people who have me in their mobile phone book and have synced the Facebook app.

I fully understand why they’re doing this – it connects new users into existing networks, it’s an evolution of the ‘import your Hotmail contacts’ facility. I just didn’t like the approach at all. They demanded my mobile number under the pretence of a security check, but then used to it find people who have me in their mobile phone contacts.

This has badly violated the privacy of a friend who has, I now know, been operating a second Facebook account to hide the fact that he is gay – something which he has good and important reasons to hide. It also showed me that an ex-girlfriend of long ago still has my number saved – which is understandable because I am great.

Facebook privacy fuckup reveals who has your number in their phonebook – alexmuir.com

What your apps know about you

This diagram is one of many interactive infographics from the Wall Street Journal, illustrating how many apps are accessing more of your personal data than you may realise.

An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps”—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

The findings reveal the intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them.

via Your Apps Are Watching You – online.wsj.com
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The Honest Privacy Policy Act

The following has been reproduced in full from an article in IT World By Dan Tynan: The first truly honest privacy policy – itworld.com.

I’ve got a better solution. Instead of a welter of new laws or regulations, how about just one: The Honest Privacy Policy Act. The HPPA would require every company to post a simple, direct, and brutally honest policy detailing what really happens to your data.

To help this proposal along I’ve come up with one of my own – and it’s 5,085 words shorter than Facebook’s. Here’s what a real privacy policy might look like:

“At COMPANY _______ we value your privacy a great deal. Almost as much as we value the ability to take the data you give us and slice, dice, julienne, mash, puree and serve it to our business partners, which may include third-party advertising networks, data brokers, networks of affiliate sites, parent companies, subsidiaries, and other entities, none of which we’ll bother to list here because they can change from week to week and, besides, we know you’re not really paying attention.

We’ll also share all of this information with the government. We’re just suckers for guys with crew cuts carrying subpoenas.

Remember, when you visit our Web site, our Web site is also visiting you. And we’ve brought a dozen or more friends with us, depending on how many ad networks and third-party data services we use. We’re not going to tell which ones, though you could probably figure this out by carefully watching the different URLs that flash across the bottom of your browser as each page loads or when you mouse over various bits. It’s not like you’ve got better things to do.

Each of these sites may leave behind a little gift known as a cookie — a text file filled with inscrutable gibberish that allows various computers around the globe to identify you, including your preferences, browser settings, which parts of the site you visited, which ads you clicked on, and whether you actually purchased something.

Those same cookies may let our advertising and data broker partners track you across every other site you visit, then dump all of your information into a huge database attached to a unique ID number, which they may sell ad infinitum without ever notifying you or asking for permission.

Also: We collect your IP address, which might change every time you log on but probably doesn’t. At the very least, your IP address tells us the name of your ISP and the city where you live; with a legal court order, it can also give us your name and billing address (see guys with crew cuts and subpoenas, above).

Besides your IP, we record some specifics about your operating system and browser. Amazingly, this information (known as your user agent string) can be enough to narrow you down to one of a few hundred people on the Webbernets, all by its lonesome. Isn’t technology wonderful?

The data we collect is strictly anonymous, unless you’ve been kind enough to give us your name, email address, or other identifying information. And even if you have been that kind, we promise we won’t sell that information to anyone else, unless of course our impossibly obtuse privacy policy says otherwise and/or we change our minds tomorrow. 

We store this information an indefinite amount of time for reasons even we don’t fully understand. And when we do eventually get around to deleting it, you can bet it’s still kicking around on some network backup drives in somebody’s closet. So once we have it, there’s really no getting it back. Hell, we can’t even find our keys half the time — how do you expect us to keep track of this stuff?

Not to worry, though, because we use the very bestest security measures to protect your data against hackers and identity thieves, though no one has actually ever bothered to verify this. You’ll pretty much just have to take our word for it.

So just to recap: Your information is extremely valuable to us. Our business model would totally collapse without it. No IPO, no stock options; all those 80-hour weeks and bupkis to show for it. So we’ll do our very best to use it in as many potentially profitable ways as we can conjure, over and over, while attempting to convince you there’s nothing to worry about.

(Hey, Did somebody hold a gun to your head and force you to visit this site? No, they did not. Did you run into a pay wall on the home page demanding your Visa number? No, you did not. You think we just give all this stuff away because we’re nice guys?  Bet you also think every roomful of manure has a pony buried inside.)

This privacy policy may change at any time. In fact, it’s changed three times since we first started typing this. Good luck figuring out how, because we’re sure as hell not going to tell you. But then, you probably stopped reading after paragraph three.”

I am hereby open sourcing this privacy policy. Feel free to use it on your own sites or suggest it to any that seem deserving (but I’d appreciate a credit and a link, if you’re so inclined).

(via Hacker News)

Vimeo present their terms in a nicely human-readable format. This should be standard practice.

I wasn’t using that privacy anyway…

Although [digital coupons] might look similar to the ones in Sunday newspaper circulars, many of today’s digital versions use special bar codes that are packed with information about the life of the coupon: the dates and times it was obtained, viewed and, ultimately, redeemed; the store where it was used; perhaps even the search terms typed to find it.

A growing number of retailers are marrying this data with information discovered online and off, such as guesses about your age, sex and income, your buying history, what Web sites you’ve visited, and your current location or geographic routine — creating profiles of customers that are more detailed than ever, according to marketing companies.

via washingtonpost.com (look under Business for ‘What those savings really cost you’ – the WP is not a big fan of ye olde hyperlink, apparently)

I’m never really sure what to think about this. Personally, I don’t use any reward cards or sign up for anything that collects data in exchange for offers. On the other hand, I’m not sure I see what the big problem is. So what if Amazon know what I like, how much I’ll spend and how often? They can’t force me to spend buy things. I get bombarded with ads all the time anyway, and I don’t think I can be angry because companies can target me better than ever before – it still comes down to me having self control.

Should you delete your Facebook account?

This May 31st is Quit Facebook Day, but I won’t be deleting my account. No, I got rid of it a few weeks ago. As much as I’d like to claim that this was entirely some kind of ethical stance, the simple truth was that I didn’t actually make much use of the service. If I had the same negative feelings about Twitter, quitting would be a much tougher decision.

Should you leave Facebook? Maybe. It’s certainly a question that a lot of people are asking. Then, if they decide to, they ask ‘so how the hell do I delete the thing?’ Enough that this has become a Google suggested result:

There’s actually a website dedicated to helping you find the elusive ‘delete’ hidden in the unnecessarily complicated settings. You can find out how well you have protected your privacy at Profile Watch. There’s also a handy bookmarklet at Reclaim Privacy that will similarly assess your profile. For a laugh, you can also read through some posts of other Facebook users, who probably think they are talking to their friends, not the entire internet: Openbook.

Are there real reasons to be worried? Well, after Facebook held a developer conference, lots of worried Google engineers left. And Google has hardly earned any privacy gold stars. And then there’s Mark Zuckerburg, the man behind the company, with a few thoughts on privacy (taken from an IM conversation when he was creating the service, then called The Facebook):

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask. 
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it. 
Zuck: I don’t know why. 
Zuck: They “trust me” 
Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Business Insider also has a fascinating expose on Zuckerburg. Decide for yourself if it holds much water, and if you think his character is likely to have improved in the last six years. 

It’s also interesting to witness how Facebook has eroded the default privacy settings over the years, from friends and family to almost completely exposing everything.

While most users may not understand/care about these issues, there are plenty who do. Enough that when a new project to create an open-source distributed social network asked for $10,000 to get started, they were overwhelmed with donations. As I write this, they have over $170,000 pledged.

So I guess Facebook just gives me the creeps.

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