Category Archives: privacy

Microsoft plans ads that monitor your emotion

One of the fallacies of marketing is we “target” people as if they were static bull’s-eyes — you there, in the affluent demo, married with kids, PRIZM category mid-life crisis with SUV, intent to buy a red convertible — when really people contain multitudes. Today you’re an office worker. Tonight a mom. Later tonight, a Glee-watching high schooler. Much later, a sexy vamp. Whatever you’re into, you’re into different things, yet marketers fail to recognize your emotional and modality states.

Microsoft will change that. News percolated today that the Redmond giant has a patent for an ad system that would recognize your emotional state, and then match corresponding advertisements. The patent gives a hypothetical example: “For instance, OMG, Inc., is an advertiser that owns bowling alleys and lounges specializing in birthday parties…” OMG wants to serve ads that go “Bang!” with excitement, but kids or adults who are feeling sad don’t react well to such ads. So being smart, OMG sets up multiple versions of its advertising creative, and when the scanner/camera notices the digital viewer looks sad or stressed, either suppresses the ad (no whiz-bang party for you glumster) or could pitch an alternative (come relax in our chill lounge…).

Microsoft calls this “emotional targeting.” You may ask, how in the world could a company track our emotions? Well, your laptop has a camera pointed at your head; Microsoft owns Kinect, which uses body-monitor scanning to allow cool video games, and Skype, where you share videos of your face; in fact, every company working on a smart TV is embedding video cameras aimed directly at you.

In George Orwell’s 1984 the TV sets watch people. In one scene the protagonist moved out of the room, around a corner, to open a book or journal to try to have privacy, but the monitors caught him. Are we afraid of what could happen if the devices we love to watch start watching us back? Or is this a natural extension of marketers trying to personalize offers meaningful to us by moving beyond data trails to direct observation?

If you’re curious, here’s a list of the ways Microsoft says it might track you:

The client devices … include, without limitation, personal digital assistants, smart phones, laptops, personal computers, gaming devices, or any other suitable client computing device. In some embodiments, the client devices include image capture and voice capture devices. The image capture devices include cameras, video cameras, etc. The voice capture devices include microphones, recorders, etc. The client devices … include a user and system information storage to store user and system information on the client device. The user information may include search histories, cookies, user identifiers, online activities, assigned emotional states, and passwords. The system information may include Internet protocol addresses, cached Webpages, and system utilization. 

Beyond ZOMG: cell phone tracking and Color’s new business model

German Green Party politician Malte Spitz is concerned about privacy. So to prove a point, he sued Deutsche Telekom to have them release six months of tracking information collected by his cell phone; Spitz then gave the data to Zeit Online, which made a freakily accurate animated graphic of Spitz’s exact travels over six months. The map shows Spitz as a dot moving from meeting to meeting, stopping to sleep … and by combining the phone data with publicly available information from his tweets and web activity, observers can determine much of what he was thinking and doing throughout each day.

Of course a normal reaction is ZOMG, cell towers are watching us. Once you get past this, the next reaction is to wonder, how could consumers be protected while putting such data to beneficial use?

In marketing, for instance, personalization is something consumers long for (see: the success of Netflix) but something marketers fail miserably at (mainly because each consumer has thousands of different modalities that manifest themselves almost randomly, e.g. you could be a hipster and father and lover and friend and cycling enthusiast and researcher of pharmaceutical meds, all at different times in one day). Truly accurate geolocation tracking, coupled with data feeds that flag or predict your consumption modality, would allow advertising to be tailored to what you really want, when you want it. Such personalization would fill the very basic marketing gap — blindingly obvious, once you think of it — of digital coupons at checkouts tailored to something consumers really want but haven’t purchased yet (as opposed to current couponing in U.S. grocery stores, which offers you discounts on products you already bought after you pay the clerk, doh).

Personalization, perhaps the real play for Color
Tailoring offers at the point of decision remains excruciatingly difficult, which is why marketers have failed to make so-called 1to1 personalization happen. Better tracking systems could finally make personalization possible.

App upstart Color could be a player. Robert Scoble noted this week that Color, the much-ballyhooed and confusingly designed photo app, launched to apparent failure … but has location technology behind it that could make future use more interesting (and worthy of the $41 million VC investment). Scoble wrote, “for instance, when you take a photo [Color] measures the audio profile of the room, captures the compass reading and other sensor readings, and pretty accurately knows other users in the room at the same time.” At face value Color creates a new type of spontaneous social network, useful for sharing pictures with strangers at a rock concert. But imagine deploying Color’s location sensors to reach groups of consumers passing through the mall on Black Friday, parsing which people are leaning to your retail location … and tying that back to past individual consumption histories to predict what they want, with photos of products and associated discounts popping up on their handsets. Unlike the social couponing aspects of Groupon, a geo-location discount from Color would not try to get someone in the door, but rather influence consumers for more sales once they are at the store. The leverage there is exponentially higher.

The data is out there, and businesses are just beginning to learn how to use it. The future of personalization may finally arrive. Of course, that also means not freaking you out with marketers who know when you’ve been sleeping and know when you’re awake.

(It’s worth playing with the cell phone data map here to see the tracking experience yourself.)

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Via Groovemonkey.

Progressive watches your driving, Google watches your face

“Good drivers finally get the savings they deserve.” That’s how Progressive pitches Snapshot, its new optional device that goes inside your car to monitor how far you drive and how hard you brake, the idea being if you are a good driver, Progressive will use its remote watching to reduce your insurance rates.

It’s part of a trend of consumer tracking that can be both beneficial and freaky. Google (no April’s Fool joke) is working on a facial recognition mobile app that could use a photo of your mug to automatically link to your online profile, very useful at business conferences and extremely worrisome, say, to women who may not want men finding their home address after shooting their image at a bar. (Google, recognizing the privacy concerns and recently stung by its Buzz data debacle, is said to be making the app opt-in only at first.) The convergence of online personal profiles, ubiquitous cameras, location-based services, and algorithms that can convert images to data means consumer sharing may be everywhere … and consumer privacy may be a thing of the past.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Iris Shreve Garrott

Wired data stalking and the demise of 1to1 personalization

Wired magazine’s UK edition pulled off a nice stunt by collecting publicly available data on its subscribers and printing customized covers that greet individuals with freakishly accurate tidbits about themselves: Their birthday, whom they live with, even colorful comments about a recent online spat with a friend. Yikes.

Yes, a clever troller (or buyer of an Experian list) can learn a lot about you. The more interesting question isn’t whether privacy is gone (it is, check your direct mail), but why similar ultra-personalization has never taken off as a marketing tactic. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers founded a consulting group in the 1990s devoted to advocating personalization based on 1to1 relationships — corporations learning to connect with individuals via data that recognized their personal interests. It was a visionary concept, where every behemoth of an organization could treat you as intimately as the owner of a local store. What happened? A few companies, such as Netflix, managed to make quasi-personalization work, but almost no marketer has nailed the 1to1 concept. Personal relationships between consumer and corporation gave way to networks of consumers talking among themselves; social media arose, and personalization was passed by as companies yearned for “viral” strategies to reach the masses, not individuals, ignoring them. If markets are efficient, and data collection has become easy, why aren’t you greeted at the mall with a digital sign saying, “Hello, Mr. Jones, welcome back, the shoes you like are on sale at the Smithswalk Outlet on Level 2”? Because 1to1 doesn’t sell as much volume as 1tomany (TV) or manytomany (viral success).

Beyond the corporate incentives, 1to1 recognition may never have been what people needed. Perhaps we don’t want unexpected personalization at all, because the serendipity of random product encounters creates desire tied to a whim. Like cotton candy or a high school crush, the sugary rush of blood that comes from longing something unexpected is oh so satisfying, mainly because the desire surprises us with novelty.

Or perhaps more simply, the aura of an unknown someone really knowing us, like a Wired UK magazine cover, just freaks us out. This will freak out the privacy advocates is a new service showing how far online tracking has gone, offering up phone numbers, home values, wealth estimates and even maps of houses for anyone you wish to track.

While a lovely user interface, Spokeo is really nothing new. Back in June 2008 Danny Dover posted a list of all the personal data elements Google could conceivably track about you — from every web site you’ve ever visited via Google search results pages to your stock portfolio, credit card, personal address, video preferences, friends and colleagues, even the time patterns on your calendars. If you’re a 100-year-old dwarf who likes to sleep late and then shop for shoes for your elf friends, Google likely knows it. Direct marketers have used similar mailing lists and PRIZM-segmentation schemes for decades to guess whether you will respond to Christmas catalogs with waxed-cotton hunting jackets.

For the record, most online targeting does not involve personally identifiable information — cookie snippets of code placed on your computer tag your device, and by proxy what type of person you are, but cannot ascertain your name, address, or other deeply personal data. (Google can do this because you’ve likely uploaded that data somehow in its vast ecosystem of search, YouTube videos, Gmail preferences, etc.) Yet in 2010, driven by a series of privacy faux pas such as Google’s Street View debacle, privacy advocates grew more anxious about such rising mountains of data. The FTC is backing a Do Not Track proposal that would allow consumers to opt-out, but we think that “fix” won’t work — primarily because it will only drive ad revenue to big publishers, make all ads less relevant, and hurt the little sites that many people like to read. Besides, marketers will find new ways around tracking such as “digital fingerprinting” that can divine individual computers and mobile phones without the use of cookies or consent.

We wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek over the holidays:

If Do Not Track moves forward, you’ll still see banner ads everywhere. They’ll be untargeted, with more off-kilter offers because no data about your preferences will be deployed to give you a golf ad, say, if you’ve been reading a lot of golfing articles. You’ll feel better about your privacy, despite the fact that website marketers could never track you individually, but rather could make wild approximations of the type of person you are. Thousands of small websites may disappear as dollars flow to consolidated publishing centers.

Is this too extreme? Surely, hobbyists will continue to write blogs and build sites out of love. But with $8 billion or more moving to the ivory towers of mainstream content, you’ll have fewer choices. There will be less innovation online. The Mashables and Huffington Posts of tomorrow may never get off the ground. Add video and soon the Web will be like turning on TV—perhaps with a few major networks, just like the 1960s.

The information is out there. Rather than fight it, consumers may just have to learn to manage it.

Facebook and self-filtering under the bedroom sheets

Tonight when you’re lying in bed with your lover/puppy dog/teddy bear and something truly intimate slips out of your mouth, say, “When I was a child I dreamed of changing the world and now that I’m making money sometimes I wonder if I’m missing the real opportunity to help others,” ask: Would you want that whisper broadcast on television during the Super Bowl?

Of course not. This is called media self-filtering, or the age-old habit of humans using different communication tools in different ways. This week we spoke at the Direct Marketing Association on how filtering is creating new challenges for advertisers, however, as more devices and portals give us greater self-filtering controls.

What is self-filtering? The graphic above shows how a typical consumer (me) “tiers” media from the most public space (mass media such as television or movies) to the most personal (under the bedroom sheets). Facebook is more intimate for me than Twitter, and Twitter is more intimate than email, and email more closed than the telephone. For each tool, I set up controls in terms of whom I connect with, who can access the stream, what I share inside it and what I choose to receive. You, and everyone else, does exactly the same.

War of the filters

All of which creates a pinch for marketers, because the inventory for their messages or advertising gets squeezed out with every additional filter layer. Consumers are demanding more self-filtering control even as some media outlets seek to take filters off, creating huge pressure on businesses pushing memes in the middle. This week YouTube tipped its hat to consumer privacy concerns by launching new “unlisted” video controls, where users can post films and no one else can see them unless they have the direct URL link. Most media networks, though, have been moving in the opposite direction. Facebook has gradually made openness its default setting — attracting the wrath of Congress, privacy experts and analysts such as Jason Calacanis. Matt McKeon, a developer at IBM Research’s Center for Social Software, has created a beautiful infographic of Facebook’s expanding openness / eroding privacy defaults over the past few years.

Here’s Facebook privacy back in 2005:

And here’s what Facebook defaults to in 2010:

Is this good or bad, beautiful or ugly? A Metcalfe student would suggest Facebook, like other networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo and your cell phone company with those deals to call friends for free, are opening their node connections to try to (a) increase the utility of the network for users while (b) collecting more data to support advertisers. Calacanis in his critique suggests publishers are nuts to plug in to Facebook Connect, which bases the personalization of on the preferences monitored by Facebook. “If you’re stupid enough to give up your customer database to Facebook, (Mark Zuckerberg) will pay you back by screwing over your user’s privacy!,” Calacanis shouts.

That is one harsh viewpoint. The alternative reality is simpler: Social networks, like businesses, are doing what corporate entities have always done — recognizing that customers are their most important asset and working hard to expand the data they can collect and manage on that asset. We suggested in our DMA speech that if Charlene Li is right, and social media does someday become like air, the connected nodes of humanity will form an aggregate data set more valuable than the current financial information that provides FICO scores or product-purchase observations that build mailing lists. Someone, somewhere will find a way to aggregate this information and use it for marketing purposes, because a society based on pleasure from consumption has a demand for better, more personalized products and services. It will be a bumpy road to get there, because just as consumers long for shiny objects, they fear outsiders peering into their souls. We want leather jackets but hate to measure our waists. The good news is now you can record your fears on film and post it quietly and privately to YouTube; just be careful about mentioning it in your Facebook News Feed.

Via Make the Logo Bigger, @darrylohrt, and a homework assignment from The Beancast.

I’m a 115-year-old woman from Venice Beach

Ah, grumpy consumers. Someone has started a group on Facebook that protests its data collection. To play, you update your profile to explain you are a woman born in 1895, now residing in Venice Beach, California — so you can thwart those evil marketers snatching your information to serve you ads.

Which makes us wonder, why are consumers so bent out of shape about online marketing while everything they do in the real world is tracked by Experian data giants for use in mailing lists? We’re working on a BusinessWeek column that pushes on this issue a bit. We suggest it’s actually beneficial when your data is seen, since you are more likely to get product offers that are personalized to your interests. Maybe you don’t buy things, have just the clothes you need, and own an empty attic and garage. If so, feel free to become a 115-year-old woman who lives in Venice Beach, California.

Danah Boyd and social network freakouts

Marketers are hungry to mine new social-network data: not just what you say, but whom you’re saying it with. There’s a homophily concept, you see, that birds of a feather buy together. A classic 2004 study by AT&T Labs Research found that people who chat frequently on the telephone are three to five times more likely to respond to the same marketing pitch. Twitter today has 75.2 million monthly users, and while 93% of them have sent fewer than 100 tweets, that leaves a population of about 5 million frequently updating their likes about brands, products and services, with visible connections.

Danah Boyd, in her SXSW keynote address, pointed out a nuance in networks, though, that should warn marketers to be careful before they toss offers based on sheer data. The concept goes like this: Imagine you know X people in the world and interact with all of them in some manner. Your behavioral network is everyone you touch somehow, which could be observed from the outside. Yet within this you may have a smaller group that you say you know — by pinning their names inside Microsoft Outlook, or Facebook, or your cell phone contacts — which is your articulated network. And within this, there is an even smaller group who are your personal network — family, true friends, or perhaps enemies, the intimates who touch your inner mind. These are not mutually exclusive categories; an intimate friend may not be someone you log in to an address book; but you treat them as three discrete concepts in your head.

Google’s Buzzworthy failure

Buzz was an attempt by Google to build a new social network; to scale it rapidly, Google decided to tie the on ramp to its Gmail. Gmail users who opened their web mail in February were greeted with a message touting how Buzz would share updates with their friends easily! Trouble was, the default setting in Google Buzz was public disclosure of the names of your Gmail contacts you communicate with most frequently. Want to catch a whiff of a competitor’s business development strategy? Hook in with Buzz and see who they’re emailing. Users could disable the feature, but it was complicated, an opt-out, and made some worry they might cancel their entire Gmail account by doing so.

Danah summed up Google’s mistake:

“Google collapsed behavioral and articulated social networks and presented them in a way that indicated that they might be one’s personal network. And for many users, this wasn’t quite right. You may talk to your ex-husband frequently via email, but that doesn’t mean that you want to follow him on Buzz.”

Metcalfe wants more

Technology companies are doing such things not to be evil, but to build networks with more utility that can be monetized at greater value in the future. It’s no mistake Facebook removed privacy settings by default in December, opening your updates to everyone (with the option to go back); the greater the nodes in the network, the higher the value to potential advertisers. This week Twitter announced a new @anywhere initiative that basically allows you to click on links in news articles to follow or retweet authors, publishers or brands — another way to expand its network nodes. Such pushes may indicate social networks are cresting in adoption; Twitter, for instance, should be concerned that 57% of its users have only 1-10 followers and 24% have no followers at all. If you run the network, you want it to grow and to be as open as possible — because that unlocks all doors to value.

But Google, Facebook and other companies that tap networks too hard without weighing the nuances of privacy are met with a fierce backlash. For marketers about to wade into the social streams, it’s worth considering more than the sentiment and volume of tweets about your brand, the connections between users that indicate their responsiveness, and the tactics you can deploy to get them leaning toward your message. You might also consider if your observant intrusion is going to freak anyone out.

Merry Christmas and all that

About two weeks ago we started getting holiday notes from friends and colleagues, and many shared a common theme: Photos of the actual families they love. A hip client posed on train tracks holding an ornament with his girlfriend/wife. An ad agency chief sent a beautiful image of his kids via email. We toyed with responding, and yes, have a photo of our own two boys in red jackets in the snow in front of a wreath, but somehow this image above, shot last summer, of them posing tough by an old New England prison wall seems more in keeping with the real spirit of youth. (Truth is, Christmas cards are a social virus gone bad, but we digress.)

Which makes us wonder: Why do humans hide their most personal relationships from the majority of people they see each day? We spend more time with co-workers than family; we love our families; and yet rarely do we let the two worlds entwine. The much-bandied social media has extended our Dunbar number of relationships, but it really is just outgrowth of the quasi-personal friendships we build outside bedrooms and living rooms. Twitter looks forward to new relationships; Facebook looks back to classmates of years past; but all the connections are tenuous, people whom you rarely invite inside your home. Do we fear the loss of love if we share our closest lives with others? Do we all on some level build false faces to the globe outside that don’t fit inside our families? Or, perhaps, are all people really fragmented by dissociative identity disorder, with multiple external and internal personas that, like matter and antimatter, react violently if allowed to touch the antipodal other?

Don’t know. But it is true that only at seasonal times of reflection do most of us let our shields down to show the world the people closest to our souls.

Alter egos

Strange, that humans have two levels of communication, and that we seem to fear sharing our clan with our professional colleagues. So to all of you who opened up a little with us, thank you. We loved the peek inside. In return, here are the Kunz brothers above, usually smiling, but apparently headed for the solemn thoughts of teendom. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, share your hearts, don’t grow up too fast and all that. We’ll see you again truly next year.

Danah Boyd and transparent light

If you don’t follow the mind of Danah Boyd, Google her and get on with it. She’s the leading ethnographic researcher on social media. Here, in an excerpt from her recent dual speeches at Supernova and Le Web, she explores a gaping void in how we use social media to listen:

The public and networked nature of the Internet creates the potential for visibility. We have the ability to see into the lives of so many people who are different than us. But only when we choose to look. So who is looking? Why are they looking? And in what context are they interpreting what they see?

“By and large, those who are looking are those who hold power over the person being observed. Parents look. Teachers look. Employers look. Governments look. Corporations look. These people are often looking to judge or manipulate. Given the powerful position they are in, those doing the looking often think that they have the right to look. The excuse is simple: “it’s public.” But do they have the right to judge? The right to manipulate? This, of course, is the essence of conversations about surveillance. And so we argue and argue and argue about the right to privacy in public spaces.

“But privacy is a complex topic. We used to argue for a right to privacy to justify what happens in the domestic sphere, including domestic violence. The idea that domestic violence was once acceptable is hard to imagine today, in this world, but not that long ago, the logic used to go: ‘she’s my wife, it’s my home, I can do whatever I want to her.’ We cannot use privacy to justify the right to abuse people in private. But we also can’t use privacy to justify not looking when people are hurting or when they’re crying out for help. We need to find a balance that allow us to have control over our information, but also be heard when we are in need of help and support.

“So I want to twist this around for a moment. When should we be looking? Not looking to judge or manipulate, but looking to learn, support, or evolve? Shouldn’t we be looking for the at-risk kids who are in trouble? Shouldn’t we be willing to see their stories, their pain, their hurt? So that we can help them? Shouldn’t we be looking to see the world more broadly? Shouldn’t we be willing to see in order to learn and transform the society we live in? This is the essence of what Jane Jacobs called ‘eyes on the street’.

“It breaks my heart that there are youth out there, crying out for help. And no one is listening.”

Danah’s complete speech is here. Image: Gabriela Camerotti.