We can do better than selling our data

fruit thought

If personal data is actually a commodity, can you buy some from another person, as if that person were a fruit stand? Would you want to?

Well, no.

Nor is there much if any evidence that businesses will want to buy personal data from individuals, on a per-person basis, especially when they can still get it for free. (GDPR withstanding, alas.)

Yet there is lately a widespread urge to claim personal data as personal property, and to create commodity markets for personal data, so people can start making money by selling or otherwise monetizing their own.

There are many problems with this, beside the one I just mentioned.

First is that, economically speaking, data is a public good, meaning non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Here’s a table that may help (borrowed from this Linux Journal column):

Excludability Excludability
YES NO
Rivalness YES Private good: good: Continue reading "We can do better than selling our data"

For privacy we need tech more than policy

Nature and the Internet both came without privacy.

The difference is that we’ve invented privacy tech in the natural world, starting with clothing and shelter, and we haven’t yet done the same in the digital world.

When we go outside in the digital world, most of us are still walking around naked. Worse, nearly every commercial website we visit plants tracking beacons on us to support the extractive economy in personal data called adtech: tracking-based advertising.

In the natural world, we also have long-established norms for signaling what’s private, what isn’t, and how to respect both. Laws have grown up around those norms as well. But let’s be clear: the tech and the norms came first.

Yet for some reason many of us see personal privacy as a grace of policy. It’s like, “The answer is policy. What is the question?”

Two such answers arrived with this morning’s  Continue reading "For privacy we need tech more than policy"

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

Let’s start with Facebook’s Surveillance Machine, by Zeynep Tufekci in last Monday’s New York Times. Among other things (all correct), Zeynep explains that “Facebook makes money, in other words, by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.”

Giant Irony Alert: the same is true for the Times, along with every other publication that lives off adtech: surveillance-based advertising. These pubs don’t just open the kimonos of their readers. They treat them as naked beings whose necks are bared to vampires ravenous for the blood of personal data, all ostensibly so those persons can be served with “interest-based” advertising.

With no control by readers (beyond tracking protection which relatively few know how to use), and damn little care or control by the publishers who bare those readers’ necks to the vampires,

Continue reading "Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing"

A Qualified Fail

Power of the People is a great grabber of a headline, at least for me. But it’s a pitch for a report that requires filling out the form here on the right:

You see a lot of these: invitations to put one’s digital ass on mailing list, just to get a report that should have been public in the first place, but isn’t so personal data can be harvested and sold or given away to God knows who.

And you do more than just “agree to join” a mailing list. You are now what marketers call a “qualified lead” for countless other parties you’re sure to be hearing from.

And how can you be sure? Read the privacy policy,. This one (for Viantinc.com) begins,

If you choose to submit content to any public area of our websites or services, your content will be considered “public” and will

Continue reading "A Qualified Fail"

Mics Matter

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

In this case, a good microphone in a bluetooth headset.

Specifically, the Bose Soundsport Wireless:

I’ve had these a day so far, and I love them. But not just because they sound good. Lots of earphones do that. I love them because the mic in the thing is good. This is surprisingly rare.

Let’s start with the humble Apple EarPods that are overpriced at $29 and come with every Apple i-thing:

No, the sound isn’t great. But get this: they sound good to the ears at the other end. Better than the fancy new AirPods. And better than lots of other earphones I’ve used: ones from Beats, SkullCandy and lots of other brands. I’ve not heard any that sound better than plain old AirPods.

So, when a refurbished iPhone 7 Plus arrived to replace my failing iPhone 5s two days ago, and Continue reading "Mics Matter"

The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it

The term “fake news” was a casual phrase until it became clear to news media that a flood of it had been deployed during last year’s presidential election in the U.S. Starting in November 2016, fake news was the subject of strong and well-researched coverage by NPR (here and here), Buzzfeed, CBS (here and here), Wired, the BBC, Snopes, CNN (here and here), Rolling Stone and others. It thus became a thing…

… until Donald Trump started using it as an epithet for news media he didn’t like. He did that first during a press conference on February 16, and then the next day on Twitter:

And he hasn’t stopped. To Trump, any stick he can whup non-Fox mainstream media with is a good stick, and FAKE NEWS is the best.

So that pretty much took

Continue reading "The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it"

Data is the New Love

dat is the new love

Personal data, that is.

Because it’s good to give away—but only if you mean it.

And it’s bad to take it, even it seems to be there for the taking.

I bring this up because a quarter million pages (so far) on the Web say “data is the new oil.”

That’s because a massive personal data extraction industry has grown up around the simple fact that our data is there for the taking. Or so it seems. To them. And their apologists.

As a result, we’re at a stage of wanton data extraction that looks kind of like the oil industry did in 1920 or so:

It’s a good metaphor, but for a horrible business. It’s a business we need to reform, replace, or both. What we need most are new industries that grow around who and what we are as individual human beings—and as a society that values

Continue reading "Data is the New Love"

How the personal data extraction industry ends

Who Owns the Internet? — What Big Tech’s Monopoly Powers Mean for our Culture is Elizabeth Kolbert‘s review in The New Yorker of several books, one of which I’ve read: Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things—How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.

The main takeaway for me, to both Elizabeth’s piece and Jon’s book, is making clear that Google and Facebook are at the heart of today’s personal data extraction industry, and that this industry defines (as well as supports) much of our lives online.

Our data, and data about us, is the crude that Facebook and Google extract, refine and sell to advertisers. This by itself would not be a Bad Thing if it were done with our clearly expressed (rather than merely implied) permission, and if we had our own valves to control personal data flows with scale across all the companies we deal with, rather Continue reading "How the personal data extraction industry ends"

Great Coffee vs. Meh Marketing

favorite-peets My loyalty to Peet’s Coffee is absolute. I have loved Peet’s since it was a single store in Berkeley. I told my wife in 2001 that I wouldn’t move anywhere outside the Bay Area unless there was a Peet’s nearby. That pre-qualified Santa Barbara, where we live now. When we travel to where Peets has retail stores, we buy bags of our favorite beans (which tend to be one of the above) to take to our New York apartment, because there are no Peets stores near there. When we’re in New York and not traveling, we look for stores that sell bags of one of the bean bags above. Since our car died and we haven’t replaced it yet, we have also taken to ordering beans through Peet’s website. Alas, we’re done with that now. Here’s why: screen-shot-2017-06-22-at-11-34-17-pm I ordered those beans (Garuda and New Guinea) two Thursdays ago, June 16, at 7:45am. A couple Continue reading "Great Coffee vs. Meh Marketing"

Google enters its chrysalis

In The Adpocalypse: What it Means, the great Vlogbrother Hank Green issues a humorous lament on the impending demise of online advertising. So invest the next 3:54 of your life in watching that video, so you catch all his points and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Got them? Good.

Every one of Hank’s points are well-argued and make complete sense. They are also valid mostly inside the bowels of the Google beast where his video work has thrived for the duration, as well as inside the broadcast model that Google sort-of emulates. (That’s the one where “content creators” and “brands” live in some kind of partly-real and partly-imagined symbiosis.)

While I like and respect what the brothers are trying to do commercially inside the belly of the Google Beast; but I also expect them, and countless other “content creators” to get expelled after Google finishes digesting that market, and Continue reading "Google enters its chrysalis"

Brands need to fire adtech

Two days ago, the New York Times said the U.S. that AT&T and Johnson & Johnson are pulling their ads from YouTube. They’re concerned that “Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.” Yesterday, Business Insider said “more than 250” advertisers were bailing as well. These came after one Guardian report said Audi, HSBC, Lloyds, McDonald’s, L’Oréal, Sainsbury’s, Argos, the BBC and Sky were doing the same in the U.K., and another Guardian report said O2, Royal Mail and Vodaphone were also joining the boycott.

Agencies placing those ads on YouTube are shocked, shocked! that ads for these fine brands are showing up next to “extremist material,” and therefore sponsoring it. They blame Google, and so does most of the coverage as well.

Here’s what almost nobody reporting on this debacle is saying: Brands think they’re placing ads in Continue reading "Brands need to fire adtech"

Exploring the business behind digital media’s invisibility cloaks

  amsterdam-streetImagine you’re on a busy city street where everybody who disagrees with you disappears. We have that city now. It’s called media—especially the social kind. You can see how this works on Wall Street Journal‘s Blue Feed, Red Feed page. Here’s a screen shot of the feed for “Hillary Clinton” (one among eight polarized topics): blue-red-wsj Both invisible to the other. We didn’t have that in the old print and broadcast worlds, and still don’t, where they persist. (For example, on news stands, or when you hit SCAN on a car radio.) But we have it in digital media. Here’s another difference: a lot of the stuff that gets shared is outright fake. There’s a lot of concern about that right now: fakenews Why? Well, there’s a business in it. More eyeballs, more advertising, more money, for more eyeballs for more advertising. And so on. Those ads are aimed
Continue reading "Exploring the business behind digital media’s invisibility cloaks"

A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-mainSo i was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this:::: 1) The Net is young, and the Web with it. Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful. Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here. 2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there. We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing Continue reading "A few words about trust"

The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking.

Ingeyes Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking, @JuliaAngwin and @ProPublica unpack what the subhead says well enough: “Google is the latest tech company to drop the longstanding wall between anonymous online ad tracking and user’s names.” Here’s a message from humanity to Google and all the other spy organizations in the surveillance economy: Tracking is no less an invasion of privacy in apps and browsers than it is in homes, cars, purses, pants and wallets. That’s because our apps and browsers are personal and private. So are the devices on which we use them. Simple as that. (HT to @Apple for digging that fact.) To help online advertising business and the publications they support understand what ought to be obvious (but isn’t yet), let’s clear up some misconceptions:
  1. Tracking people without their clear and conscious permission is wrong. (Meaning The Castle Doctrine Continue reading "The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking."

@Staples, you can Un faster than that.

I just unsubscribed from Staples mailings, and got this: screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-3-08-35-pm WTF? Is the request traveling by boat somewhere? Does it need to be aged before it works? We have computers now. We’re on the Internet. There is no reason why unsubscribing from anything should take longer than now. Staples is not alone at this, by the way.. Many unsubscriptions are followed by promises to complete over some number of days. I don’t know why companies do that, but it smacks of marketing BS. If you’re listening, Staples, give me a good reason. I am curious. For what it’s worth, I unsubscribed because approximately all the mailings I get from Staples (and everybody else) are uninteresting to me. Un-cluttering my mailbox is far more valuable than getting bargains (e.g. “$220 off select laptops and desktops” and “UNBEATABLE Ink & Toner Prices”) I’ll never bother with. Save

The cash model of “customer experience”

coins Here’s the handy thing about cash: it gives customers scale. It does that by working the same way for everybody, everywhere it’s accepted. Cash has also been doing that for thousands of years. But we almost never talk about our “experience” with cash, because we don’t need to. Marketers, however, love to talk about “the customer experience.” Search for customer+experience and you’ll get 35+ million results, nearly all pointing to stuff written by marketers and their suppliers. Even the Wikipedia entry for customer experience reads like an ad for a commercial “CX” supplier. That’s why a big warning box at the top of the article says it has “multiple issues” (four, to be exact), the oldest of which has persisted, uncorrected, since 2012. Try to read this, if you can:
In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a
dsearls-tmobile-gogo-thread
Continue reading "The cash model of “customer experience”"

Nobody else owns our experiences

shackles Who Owns the Mobile Experience? is a report by Unlockd on mobile advertising in the U.K. To clarify the way toward an answer, the report adds, “mobile operators or advertisers?” The correct answer is neither. Nobody’s experience is “owned” by another party. True, another party may cause a person’s experience to happen. But that doesn’t mean that party owns that personal experience. We own our selves. That includes our experiences. This is an essential distinction. For lack of it, both mobile operators and advertisers are delusional about their customers and consumers. (That’s an other important distinction. Operators have customers. Advertisers have consumers. Customers pay, consumers may or may not. That the former also qualifies as the latter does not mean the distinction should not be made. Sellers are far more accountable to customers than advertisers are to consumers.) It’s interesting that Unlockd’s survey shows almost identically high Continue reading "Nobody else owns our experiences"

Is the online advertising bubble finally starting to pop?

I started calling online advertising a bubble in 2008. I made “The Advertising Bubble” a chapter in The Intention Economy in 2012. I’ve been and have been unpacking what I figure ought to be obvious (but isn’t) in 52 posts and articles (so far) in the Adblock War Series. And it ain’t happened yet. But, now comes this, from Kalkis Research: kalkis-on-google Some charts: googlecpc adblocking   change-in-advertising-vs-sales   costofadspace — and a very downbeat conclusion:
We are living through the latest stages of the online advertising bubble, as available high-quality ad space is shrinking, leading to a decline ad space quality, and a decline of ad efficiency. Awareness for fraud is growing, and soon, clients will cut their online ad spending, and demand higher accountability. This will destroy the high-margin market of automated reselling worthless ad space, and will force advertisers to focus only on prime publishers, with expensive ad space. This is a
pingpongtable
Continue reading "Is the online advertising bubble finally starting to pop?"

Toward an ethics of influence

2016-05-02berkman Stop now and go to TimeWellSpent.io, where @TristanHarris, the guy on the left above, has produced and gathered much wisdom about a subject most of us think little about and all of us cannot value more: our time. Both of us will be co-investing some time tomorrow afternoon at the @BerkmanCenter, talking about Tristan’s work and visiting the question he raises above with guidance from S.J. Klein. (Shortlink for the event: http://j.mp/8thix. And a caution: it’s a small room.) So, to help us get started, here’s a quick story, and a context in the dimension of time…
Many years ago a reporter told me a certain corporate marketing chief “abuses the principle of instrumentality.” Totally knocked me out. I mean, nobody in marketing talked much about “influencers” then. Instead it was “contacts.” This reporter was one of those. And he was exposing something
googletrends-influencer
googletrends-influencer-marketing
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TV Viewers to Madison Avenue: Please quit driving drunk on digital

drunk-driving Today AdAge gives us Clinton and Sanders Using Addressable Advertising in New York Market: Precision Targeting Is Especially Relevant in NYC, Say Political Media Observers, by @LowBrowKate. Here’s how it works:
In order to aim addressable TV spots to those voters, the campaigns provide a list of the individual voters they want to target to Cablevision or satellite providers DirecTV and Dish. That list is matched against each provider’s customer database and ads are served to the matching households. Because voter data includes actual names and addresses, the same information the TV providers have for billing purposes, they readily can match up the lists.
Speaking as a Dish Network customer—and as a sovereign human being—I don’t want to be an “addressable target” of any advertising—and I already feel betrayed. I don’t care what measurable results “addressable” or “precision” targeting gets for those who practice it. The result that matters Continue reading "TV Viewers to Madison Avenue: Please quit driving drunk on digital"