The Power of Targeted Advertising

August 12, 2010

Actual screen shots, guaranteed (a few elements compressed to reduce image size):




With cookies from Google:


After I deleted cookies:


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Privacy, Facebook and the Future of Publishing

May 15, 2010

The issue of privacy, confidentiality, identity theft and…what else am I forgetting…has been haunting the public since long before the web. The web’s capacity to amass truly vast amounts of identifiable personal information, both on a voluntary basis and on a surreptitious one, has greatly heightened concern about these issues. A number of stupid, careless and sometimes greedy folks have managed between them to make the public angry. And so the public now demands action, and Facebook has become the lightning rod galvanizing the energy surrounding some serious, legitimate concerns. (There’s lots of coverage of Facebook’s security faux pas around the web. A recent summary appeared on Huffington Post.) In a blog entry last October I described a recent report revealing that our collective disdain for vendor privacy abuses had stretched the limit. Most people no longer favor tailored advertising, once thought to be the web’s golden goose.

Last week Canada’s Globe & Mail surveyed its online readers with the question “Are you considering quitting Facebook?” (The Globe & Mail is a mainstream newspaper, “Canada’s New York Times,” so the poll reached a broad public, rather than a swarm of social mediaphiles.


Leaving out the 43% who are not Facebook users (confirming my assessment of the Globe & Mail reader demographic), 65% of those polled who are Facebook members currently are thinking about or definitely planning to quit. Well done Facebook!

And now The Canadian Press news service reports a new site that viscerally demonstrates how vulnerable Facebook’s users are to having potential indiscretions uncovered. Called openbook, the tagline for the site is “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life. Whether you want to or not.” Openbook even suggests embarrassing words and phrases you might want to search on, such as “cheated test, “don’t tell anyone,” “rectal exam,” and “HIV test.”

A search under “HIV test” reveals a user (nameless here) who graphically reported seven hours ago “And another thing I just a blood test done Im HIV+ so thanks who ever gave me that shit asshole.” Perhaps this user doesn’t care if the whole world knows. Most people would.

Yes, the stupid, the careless and the greedy are threatening the future of publishing via the web. Once the legislators are goaded into action we’ll all face publishing restrictions that should be reserved for the few.

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Americans Reject Tailored Advertising

October 8, 2009

A very important report was officially released Wednesday by the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (in conjunction with the Social Science Research Network (SSRN)). Titled “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising,” the report appears to change the rules of the online advertising game.

The report has five co-authors, led by the well-respected Joseph Turow of the Annenberg School for Communication.

The overview succinctly states:

Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages—between 73% and 86%–say they would not want such advertising….

The survey uncovered other attitudes by Americans toward tailored content and the collection of information about them. For example:

• Even when they are told that the act of following them on websites will take place anonymously, Americans’ aversion to it remains: 68% “definitely” would not allow it, and 19% would “probably” not allow it.
• A majority of Americans also does not want discounts or news fashioned specifically for them, though the percentages are smaller than the proportion rejecting ads.
• 69% of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
• 92% agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.”
• 63% believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their internet activity.

The report is authoritative and easily digested. It is a must-read for all concerned about the future of publishing and the role that advertising plays within. The implications of the report are featured in my study on Adobe’s acquisition of Omniture, to be released October 12th.

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