In the digital advertising business, this form of highly personalized marketing is being hailed as the latest breakthrough because it tries to show consumers the right ad at the right time. “The overwhelming response has been positive,” said Aaron Magness, senior director for brand marketing and business development at Zappos, a unit of Amazon.com. The parent company declined to say whether it also uses the ads.
Others, though, find it disturbing. When a recent Advertising Age column noted the phenomenon, several readers chimed in to voice their displeasure.
Bad as it was to be stalked by shoes, Ms. Matlin said that she felt even worse when she was hounded recently by ads for a dieting service she had used online. “They are still following me around, and it makes me feel fat,” she said.
With more consumers queasy about intrusions into their privacy, the technique is raising anew the threat of industry regulation. “Retargeting has helped turn on a light bulb for consumers,” said Jeff Chester, a privacy advocate and executive director of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy. “It illustrates that there is a commercial surveillance system in place online that is sweeping in scope and raises privacy and civil liberties issues, too.”
August 31, 2010
August 26, 2010
Ramping Back Up… [7:54 am]
It’s been a busy summer, and the blog has suffered. It’s going to take a little time to get back up to speed, but you have to start somewhere. So, a collection of things.
Today’s Boston Globe profiles one of the many firms that one can hire to “sanitize” your online reputation: For a fee, digital dirt can be buried [pdf]. I’m sure that the “cat-bin woman,” Mary Bale, can’t afford what it would take to expunge her moment of insanity. Of course, she’s not alone in being singled out by a digital witch-hunt, but there’s a real question of how dangerous this sort of activity is getting. Of course, the Germans are going to police the use of Facebook in their effort to fight, but that looks just ridiculous — just as the US Government has learned to avoid strictures on privacy by hiring commercial firms to do the legwork, the Germans will simply find someone else to troll Facebook for them — Germany Plans Limits on Facebook Use in Hiring [pdf]
One might have hoped that, with the release of Common As Air, we might expect to get further along on the discussion of how the faulty application of the “property” metaphor to creative work carries real risks for us all, but all you have to do is read the comments to Dan Gillmor’s latest piece on the subject at Salon to see that we’re getting nowhere. Of course, a read of the opening of Hyde’s book (as far as I’ve had time for this week) points out that the constituencies that benefit from the perpetuation of the faulty metaphor are working overtime to maintain the confusion.
And today’s Globe also points out that Joel Tenenbaum and Charlie Nesson are continuing with their fight — Student appeals award of $67,000 [pdf]. You have to admire the tenacity: although, even my limited exposure to Charlie has shown me that he can be a pretty compelling guy. It would be fun (although, probably pretty expensive, in this case) to get into a fight with him on your side.
December 7, 2009
How Special! [11:43 am]
Personalized results were previously served only to users who were signed into their Google account and had opted in to let Google track their Web History, or log of search queries and results. Going forward, personalized results will be offered to users whether they are signed in or not. Users must also now opt out of personalized results.
This is how it works. Google will continue to use Web History to personalize results for users who are signed in. Even when users are not signed in, Google will customize their search results based on past search information linked to a user’s computer Web browser using an anonymous cookie. Google stores up to 180 days of signed-out search activity linked to the browser’s cookie, including queries and results that are clicked.
September 1, 2009
Living In A Technological Culture [8:02 am]
One more version of privacy that we can hardly name, much less have a meaningful policy discussion about. Although, let’s do give credit when a topic like this gets a few column inches: A Casualty of the Technology Revolution - ‘Locational Privacy’ (pdf)
When I woke up the other day, I went straight to my computer to catch up on the news and read e-mail. About 20 minutes later, I walked half a block to the gym, where I exercised for 45 minutes. I took the C train to The New York Times building, and then at the end of the day, I was back on the C train. I had dinner on my friends Elisabeth and Dan’s rooftop, then walked home seven blocks.
I’m not giving away any secrets here — nothing I did was secret to begin with. Verizon online knows when I logged on, and New York Sports Club knows when I swiped my membership card. The M.T.A. could trace through the MetroCard I bought with a credit card when and where I took the subway, and The Times knows when I used my ID to enter the building. AT&T could follow me along the way through my iPhone.
[...] A little-appreciated downside of the technology revolution is that, mainly without thinking about it, we have given up “locational privacy.” Even in low-tech days, our movements were not entirely private. The desk attendant at my gym might have recalled seeing me, or my colleagues might have remembered when I arrived. Now the information is collected automatically and often stored indefinitely.
[...] The idea of constantly monitoring the citizenry’s movements used to conjure up images of totalitarian states. Now, technology does the surveillance — generally in the name of being helpful. It’s time for a serious conversation about how much of our privacy of movement we want to give up.
August 11, 2009
Necessity, Invention? [7:13 am]
The program is one way for consumers to receive discounts on cars without dealing with the haggling often associated with buying cars through dealerships. The partnership with eBay is also a crucial part of G.M.’s effort to return to profitability after five years of heavy losses and to remain the new-vehicle sales leader in the United States.
Unlike a typical eBay sale, vehicles will not be auctioned to the highest bidder but rather listed at a “buy it now” price equal to G.M.’s supplier price. Shoppers also can submit a lower offer that the dealer can accept or reject.
“It’s very attractive to a core group of customers who don’t really care for the negotiating experience at a dealership but do want to negotiate,” said Mark LaNeve, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales. “Now they can do that anonymously online. So we think it’s going to give us some opportunities we didn’t have before.”
August 5, 2009
Wow! [11:10 am]
Most of the online world is based on a simple, if unarticulated, agreement: consumers browse Web sites free, and in return, they give up data — like their gender or income level — which the sites use to aim their advertisements.
The new head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, David C. Vladeck, says it is time for that to change. In an interview, Mr. Vladeck outlined plans that could upset the online advertising ecosystem. Privacy policies have become useless, the commission’s standards for the cases it reviews are too narrow, and some online tracking is “Orwellian,” Mr. Vladeck said.
After eight years of what privacy advocates and the industry saw as a relatively pro-business commission, Mr. Vladeck, has made a splash. In June, the commission settled a case with Sears that was a warning shot to companies that thought their privacy policies protected them. In just over six weeks on the job, he has asked Congress for a bigger budget and for a streamlined way to create regulations. And he said he would hire technologists to help analyze online marketers’ tracking.
“Orwellian!” I like it!
July 10, 2009
“I’m Shocked! Shocked!” [4:15 pm]
The warrantless surveillance program approved by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks received too little legal review at its inception and its ultimate effectiveness was unclear, according to an in-depth review released Friday by the inspectors general of five federal agencies.
[...] The wiretapping program was first disclosed by The New York Times in December 2005, 13 months after the White House urged the newspaper not to publish the article because it said the disclosure would harm national security.
The disclosure set off a furious debate that continued through the end of the Bush administration on presidential power in a time of war, the separation of powers, federal wiretapping powers, and state secrets.
[...] Since Mr. Obama took office, his administration has used many of the same legal tactics as the Bush administration, including the assertion of a “state privelege” claim, to try to quash legal challenges to the program in federal court.
June 19, 2009
Some interesting stuff to review here: Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices and Consumers’ Expectations. Ed Felten was on the witness list, and he gives a nice synopsis of the technology, with the following conclusion:
Citizens are rightly concerned about the possibility that commercial entities will build extensive profiles of who they are and what they do online. Ad services are not the only parties who can assemble such profiles, but large ad services do have a prime opportunity to build profiles, due to their relationships with many content providers who can pass along information about users, and due to the ad services’ ability to connect the dots by linking together a user’s activities across different web sites.
All of this is possible, as a technical matter, which is not to say that responsible ad services do all of it, or even most of it. Ad services may be restrained by law, by self-regulation, by social norms, or by market pressures. What is clear is that technology, by itself, cannot protect users from broad gathering and use of information about what they do online.
June 17, 2009
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications.
In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.
“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.
Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be quoted for the record.
Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the technicalities.”
June 4, 2009
The Endgame [7:33 am]
A federal judge on Wednesday threw out more than three dozen lawsuits claiming that the nation’s major telecommunications companies had illegally assisted in the wiretapping without warrants program approved by President George W. Bush after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker of Federal District Court in Northern California said that although consumer and privacy groups raised important constitutional issues in their claims, Congress had left no doubt about its “unequivocal intention” when it passed a measure last summer giving immunity to phone carriers in the wiretapping program.
The ruling: In Re: National Security Agency Telecommunications Records Litigation. It points out that the options remaining to try to regain integrity in the system depend upon a few cases yet pending:
The two categories of cases not targeted for dismissal in the United States’ instant motion to dismiss are those brought against governmental entities (Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc v Bush, No C 07-0109; Center for Constitutional Rights v Bush, No C 07-1115; Guzzi v Bush, No C 06-6225; Shubert v Bush, No C 07-0693) and those brought by the United States against state attorneys general (United States v Clayton, C 07-01242; United States v Palermino, C 07-01326; United States v Farber, C 07-01324; United States v Reishus, C 07-01323; United States v Volz, C0 7-01396; Clayton v ATT, C 07-01187). The latter six actions by the United States against states are the subject of a separate motion for summary judgment brought under section 803 of FISAAA, 50 USC § 1885b (Doc #536) and a separate order by the court.
[...] The court agrees with the United States and the telecommunications company defendants on this point: plaintiffs retain a means of redressing the harms alleged in their complaints by proceeding against governmental actors and entities who are, after all, the primary actors in the alleged wiretapping activities. [...]
We’ll see. But, don’t forget that this President specifically came off the campaign trail to vote on this immunity bill in the Senate, and he voted in favor — not to mention his continuation of the previous Administration’s policies when it comes to domestic telecommunications surveillance, so we can bet that there will continue to be nightmares to come.
Just consider: while one might imagine that the telecommunications companies “won” in this case, it’s now the case that these companies are vassals of the US Government. They no longer have recourse when told to break the law by the Government — they are no longer able to act on their clients’ behalf because they can no longer claim that the Government is asking them to shoulder a liability risk that violates their contracts with their customers and their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders — anyone raising that objection will simply be told that the Government will immunize them. Which makes the closing portion of the New York Times’ article particularly ironic:
“We are gratified by the court’s decision,” said Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for AT&T, “and we look forward to continuing our focus on serving our customers’ needs.”
I have no desire to join the “tinfoil hat brigade,” but the expansion of executive power under this new Administration doesn’t look like much of a “change” to me at all. After all, there’s S.1100 — “Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009″ —
A bill to provide that certain photographic records relating to the treatment of any individual engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside the United States shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code (commonly referred to as the Freedom of Information Act)
June 2, 2009
Something To Worry About [11:17 am]
From the Executive Summary of their report:
Online privacy and behavioral profiling are of growing concern among both consumers and government officials. In this report, we examine both the data handling practices of popular websites and the concerns of consumers in an effort to identify problematic practices. We conclude by offering potential solutions to realign privacy practices with consumers‘ expectations.
May 18, 2009
The e-Volution of Retail [8:53 am]
a couple of articles on the opportunities tying of digital data collection with aspects of retailing - some new, and some not so new:
IF you try on a sweater in a department store dressing room, but choose not to buy it, a persistent sales clerk won’t pursue you into the street yelling, “Hey, are you sure?” Nor will you receive a call at your home the next day to check again if you want to complete the purchase.
But in the online world, visitors to Web stores who touch the goods but leave without buying may be subjected instantaneously to “remarketing,” in the form of nagging e-mail messages or phone calls.
A new Web service, called Abandonment Tracker Pro, is in beta testing and scheduled for formal release next month. [...]
“I think I can do something for you, though,” [credit card bill collector Rudy] Santana continued, glancing at his screen. It was filled with information about the man, including the fact that he had recently sold his home at a loss. Some of this information had been sent by the man’s bank to Santana’s employer, Sunrise Credit Services, which collects delinquent debts for companies like Citigroup, Bank of America and HSBC. Santana’s company had added notes, too, including helpful tips — he is easier to reach in the mornings, for example — and new ways to contact him.
“Look,” Santana said. “I know you’re angry at your wife. One step to ending that anger is putting this debt behind you. It will really help you find peace. You owe about $29,000. How much do you think you can pay?”
“Well, how much are you gonna help me?” the man shot back. “These banks got all this taxpayer money from the government, and they’re the ones who ruined the market for my house! I helped bail them out. I think the banks should be paying me, instead of trying to suck all the life out of us they can!”
[...] Luckily for the industry, small groups of executives at most of the large firms have spent the last decade studying cardholders from almost every angle, and collection agencies have developed more sophisticated dunning techniques. They have sought to draw psychological and behavioral lessons from the enormous amounts of data the credit-card companies collect every day. They’ve run thousands of tests and crunched the numbers on millions of accounts. One result of all that labor is the conversation between Santana — a former bouncer whose higher education consists solely of corporate-sponsored classes like “the Psychology of Collections” — and the man from Massachusetts. When Santana contacted the man last month, he was armed with detailed information about his life and trained in which psychological approaches were most likely to succeed.
Playing With Fire [8:40 am]
This spring, the students of an elective course on Internet privacy at Fordham Law School experienced a number of fascinating “teaching moments” during an assignment meant to demonstrate how much personal information is floating around online.
The assignment from the class’s professor, Joel R. Reidenberg, was, admittedly, a bit provocative: create a dossier about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from what can be found on the Internet.
Why Justice Scalia? Well, the class had been discussing his recent dismissive comments about Internet privacy concerns at a conference. His summation, as reported by The Associated Press: “Every single datum about my life is private? That’s silly.”
[...] Justice Scalia declined an interview request through a spokeswoman but he did give a response about the episode to Above the Law.
“I stand by my remark at the Institute of American and Talmudic Law conference that it is silly to think that every single datum about my life is private. I was referring, of course, to whether every single datum about my life deserves privacy protection in law.
“It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible. That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg’s exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.”
A teaching moment, but not necessarily a learned one.
Solove’s blog: Concurring Opinions; entries on this article’s topic — Justice Scalia’s Conception of Privacy, Justice Scalia’s Dossier: Interesting Issues about Privacy and Ethics and Justice Scalia’s Dossier: Joel Reidenberg Responds
March 26, 2009
In Case You’ve Been Asleep, Or Something [8:23 am]
According to RealAge, more than 27 million people have taken the test, which asks 150 or so questions about lifestyle and family history to assign a “biological age,” how young or old your habits make you. Then, RealAge makes recommendations on how to get “younger,” like taking multivitamins, eating breakfast and flossing your teeth. Nine million of those people have signed up to become RealAge members.
But while RealAge promotes better living through nonmedical solutions, the site makes its money by selling better living through drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies pay RealAge to compile test results of RealAge members and send them marketing messages by e-mail. The drug companies can even use RealAge answers to find people who show symptoms of a disease — and begin sending them messages about it even before the people have received a diagnosis from their doctors.
While few people would fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and hand it over to a drug company looking for suggestions for new medications, that is essentially what RealAge is doing.
See also Your Online Clicks Have Value, for Someone Who Has Something to Sell (pdf) — although, not as much as they used to, I would say
March 12, 2009
Another “If You Seek Amy” [10:03 am]
Since its first unheralded appearance in January on a Chinese Web page, the grass-mud horse has become nothing less than a phenomenon.
[...] Not bad for a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point.
The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China’s authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that.
It has also raised real questions about China’s ability to stanch the flow of information over the Internet — a project on which the Chinese government already has expended untold riches, and written countless software algorithms to weed deviant thought from the world’s largest cyber-community.
March 11, 2009
Foolishness, Facebook, and Reputation [8:15 am]
It’s not just kids who don’t quite grasp the consequences of the revealed life: A New York Police Officer Who Put Too Much on MySpace (pdf)
[I]n the looking glass of his computer screen, he becomes a man of fierce, profane views on how to keep law and order. A few weeks ago, he posted a description of his mood on a MySpace account. “Devious,” he wrote.
The next day, a man accused of carrying a loaded gun would go on trial in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn — and in large part, the case rested on the credibility of Vaughan Ettienne, bodybuilder, Internet user and arresting officer.
What seemed like a simple gun possession case became an undeclared war over reality: Was Officer Ettienne a diligent cop who found a gun after chasing an ex-convict weaving through traffic on a stolen motorcycle? Or was his story a “devious” facade in keeping with the ruthless character he revealed on social network Web sites?
“You have your Internet persona, and you have what you actually do on the street,” Officer Ettienne said on Tuesday. “What you say on the Internet is all bravado talk, like what you say in a locker room.”
Except that trash talk in locker rooms almost never winds up preserved on a digital server somewhere, available for subpoena. [...]
Scylla and Charybdis [8:03 am]
Google will begin showing ads on Wednesday to people based on their previous online activities in a form of advertising known as behavioral targeting, which has been embraced by most of its competitors but has drawn criticism from privacy advocates and some members of Congress.
Perhaps to forestall objections to its approach, Google said it planned to offer new ways for users to protect their privacy. Most notably, Google will be the first major company to give users the ability to see and edit the information that it has compiled about their interests for the purposes of behavioral targeting. Like rivals such as Yahoo, it also will give users the choice to opt out from what it calls “interest-based advertising.”
Privacy advocates praised Google’s decision to give users access to their profiles.
The millions of people who use their cellphones daily to play games, download applications and browse the Web may not realize that they have an unseen companion: advertisers that can track their interests, their habits and even their location.
[...] Eswar Priyadarshan, the chief technology officer of Quattro Wireless, which places advertising for clients like Sony on mobile sites, says he typically has 20 pieces of information about a customer who has visited a site or played with an application in his network. “The basic idea is, you go through all these channels, and you get as much data as possible,” he said.
February 16, 2009
Speech, Privacy and the Internet [8:59 am]
[S]ome legal scholars are beginning to argue that new technologies have changed the balance of power between the right to speak and the right to be left alone. At conferences, in law review articles, and, increasingly, in the courts, some lawyers are suggesting that the time has come to rethink some of the hallowed protections that the law gives speech in this country, especially if that speech is online. The proposals vary: Some focus on restricting material that can be posted online or how long it can stay there, others on whether we should be less willing to protect online anonymity. More ambitious schemes would have courts treat a persons reputation as a form of property - something to be protected, traded, and even sold like any other property - or create a legally enforceable duty of confidentiality between friends like that which exists between doctors and their patients.
At stake is the basic question of what we will allow people to say and do online, whether its on a message board, a Craigslist ad, or a YouTube video - and who gets to set the rules governing whats OK and whats not. [...]
February 9, 2009
“Connected” [8:38 am]
A little primer on the subject: Googles G1 phone makes it easy to track surfing habits (pdf)
The new Google phone, dubbed the G1, has been touted as a working mans smartphone — a cheap, Web-friendly wireless device that can make life easier for millions of consumers.
The G1, as it turns out, also stands to make life a whole lot easier for Google — by making it a snap to track your movements on the mobile Web and send you ads as it does on the desktop. The device, sold exclusively by T-Mobile, gives Google access to your e-mail, instant messages, contact lists, Web-search history and geographic location. By keeping tabs on your mobile life, Google (GOOG) can quickly figure out what sort of ads to send your way, and when.
“It’s like a walking surveillance device,” says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer watchdog group.
January 7, 2009
Glenn Greenwald on a Roll [1:35 pm]
Not that it’s going to make one whit of difference — but I’m glad that someone’s at least paying attention: The DOJ pursues the “real criminal” in the NSA spying scandal
Meanwhile, the only person to pay any price from this rampant lawbreaking – Tom Tamm — is the one with infinitely less power than all of them, the one who risked his job security and even freedom to bring to the nations attention the fact that our highest government officials were deliberately committing felonies in how they spied on us. Those who broke the law and those who actively enabled it — the Cheneys and Haydens and Rockefellers and Pelosis and Harmans — all protect one another, and have virtually every political and media elite righteously demand that nothing be done to them.
But there is not a peep of protest over the ongoing, life-destroying persecution of the former DOJ lawyer whose conscience compelled him to do what those cowardly Democratic leaders would not do: take action to uncover rampant criminality at the highest levels of our government. Harry Reid is a real tough guy when it comes to the momentous goal of preventing Roland Burris from entering the Senate. Dianne Feinstein is enraged over the grave injustice that she was not told in advance about the new CIA Director. Is it even possible to envision a Democratic Congressional leader — many of whom eagerly enabled most of the abuses of the last eight years undertaken by the Bush administration — objecting to the ongoing persecution of this whistle-blower, someone who did the job they were all either afraid or unwilling to do?
That’s Americas justice system in a nutshell: the President who deliberately and knowingly violated our 30-year-old law making it a felony offense to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants has the entire political and media class eagerly defend him against prosecution. Those who enabled him — in both parties — block investigations into what was done. [...]