Perils of Database Marketing

Like This? You’ll Hate That. (Not All Web Recommendations Are Welcome.)

Web technology capable of compiling vast amounts of customer data now makes it possible for online stores to recommend items tailored to a specific shopper’s interests. Companies are finding that getting those personalized recommendations right – or even close – can mean significantly higher sales.

For consumers, a recommendation system can either represent a vaguely annoying invasion of privacy or a big help in bringing order to a sea of choices.

Comparison and Contrast: CBS and Fox Approach To New Distribution

CBS, Fox Show Different Approaches to Tech [pdf]

In the fast-moving world of technology, Fox is the tortoise and CBS is the hare.

CBS has spent the past few months making deals to distribute the network’s fare in every conceivable way — on the Internet, through on-demand services, on iPods, on cell phones. Fox has been content to mostly watch this frenzied activity from the sidelines.

Considering their images as TV networks, it’s a fascinating reversal of type. In this tech race, CBS, with the oldest average audience, is the teenager careening wildly from experience to experience. Fox, home of “The Simpsons,” is the conservative elder taking it all in.

Positioning for the Surveillance Fight

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading some depressing books: State of War by James Risen (distressing), No Place To Hide by Robert O’Harrow (purposely scary) and The Digital Person by Daniel Solove (even scarier, in that all the incidents cited in O’Harrow’s book appear here, presented matter-of-factly within their legal context).

All three speak to the need for us to think long and hard about what the emergence of “digital identity” means for American ideology.

What they all point out is that the greatest threat is not the actions by our government and our industries to construct these “digital identities” from the binary detritus of our daily lives. Rather, it is the failure to conceptualize a notion of “privacy” that is consistent with the threats that we face. Warren and Brandeis pointed out over a hundred years ago that technology was going to force us to reshape our thinking on the subject — we just don’t seem to have developed anything terribly sophisticated, while the users of technology have found a host of sophisticated applications that directly challenge our concepts — c.f., this current surveillance effort. (Also, more mundanely, see Inscription Suspicion [pdf])

This is something that I’ve been challenged to think about within the context of some recent research, so expect more on this from time to time. Anyway, a couple of articles in today’s papers mention that positioning is going to be everything as this debate starts up:

From the NYTimes: Delicate Dance for Bush in Depicting Spy Program as Asset; From the LATimes, Lawmakers Debate New Limits on Spying [pdf]

Also see David Berlind channel Jonathan Zittrain on this topic here: Phone calls, e-mails, and now search data. Where will Bush stop?; also Tim Wu’s Keeping Secrets