Casual Dataveillance: Shopping Coupons

Clip and Save Holds Its Own Against Point and Click

“Coupons are an ingrained part of the nation’s shopping culture,” said Charles Brown, co-chairman of the Coupon Council, a coupon advocacy group.

The paper coupon, Mr. Brown insists, is a powerful marketing vehicle to reach millions of consumers and build brands and customer loyalty. Proof of the coupon’s worth, he said, is that major companies like Procter & Gamble, S. C. Johnson, General Mills and Kraft continue to rely on traditional coupons, and that the yearly number of coupons distributed keeps rising slightly.

Some marketing experts say that while old habits resist change, the demise of the paper coupon is a sure thing. It is, they say, the marketing equivalent of a blunderbuss, while the Internet offers a laser shot.

“The paper coupon is the single most inefficient marketing tool you could imagine,” said Peter Sealey, a former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola who is a marketing consultant in Sausalito, Calif. “The traditional paper coupon is going to die. It can’t survive in the Internet world.”

[…] Coupon sites like ValPak and CoolSavings, a subsidiary of Q Interactive, offer coupons for local merchants or nationally branded products. But digital coupons are also spread across many Web sites, just as ads are. So those looking for information on baby care might see an online coupon for diapers, while a person looking at a Web site for motorcycle enthusiasts would be more likely to see a coupon for helmets or leather jackets.

That kind of selective marketing, showing consumers advertising and promotions related to their browsing interests, is the potential Internet advantage.

SpiralFrog Arises

Will ad revenue be enough to support this approach? Universal Backs Free Music Rival to iTunes

A new online music company said today that it would make a huge catalog of songs from the world’s largest record company, the Universal Music Group, available for consumers to download free.

The company, called SpiralFrog, said its intention was to wean music fans, especially young people, away from illegal downloads and pirate music sites by offering a legitimate source that is supported by advertising instead of download fees.

Of course, there’s never a free lunch:

For consumers, SpiralFrog’s free downloads will come with many more strings attached than Apple’s paid ones do. Users of SpiralFrog will have to sit through advertisements, and will be prevented by special software from making copies of the songs they download or from sharing them with other people.

They will have to revisit the SpiralFrog web site monthly to keep access to the music they download. And the songs will be encoded in Microsoft’s WMA format, meaning they will not work on Apple iPod portable music players.

Later: The LATimes’ article, which is always so much more refreshingly upfront about record company attitudes — Universal Music to Offer Free Downloadspdf

“If someone wants to buy a million CDs from us and then give them away on a street corner, that’s fine with us as long as we get paid,” said Larry Kenswil, a top digital-media executive at Universal Music.

The record company will receive an upfront payment from SpiralFrog and a portion of the company’s advertising revenue. “Anything that encourages people to get music from legitimate sources is a good thing.”

[…] But SpiralFrog’s success is far from guaranteed.

[…] Finally, there’s the question that cuts to the core of SpiralFrog’s business model: Will fans sit through a 90-second ad to get free music?

Later (Sep 06) — EMI publishing in downloads deal

OT: You Learn Something Every Day!

I have one of these in my office, so it was great to learn this bit of trivia about the origins of the famous North American jackalope in this article: How a Vaccine Search Ended in Triumph

Research that could have led them in the right direction was done in the 1930’s by Dr. Richard Shope of the Rockefeller University, who on a hunting trip heard a friend describe seeing rabbits with “horns,” which were actually large warts.

Dr. Shope asked his friend to send some of the horns. He then ground them up, filtered them through porcelain that let only tiny virus-size particles through, and injected the filtrate into other rabbits, which grew horns in turn.

“Incidentally, that’s where the jackalope myth comes from,” said Dr. William Bonnez, who was part of the University of Rochester’s vaccine development team. (Jackalopes, jackrabbits with antelope horns, are made by taxidermists and appear on things like postcards from Wyoming. But references to horned rabbits go back centuries, and their condition probably stemmed from papilloma infections.)

Dr. Shope’s work showed the cause was a virus, but it was not until the 1980’s that DNA amplification allowed a German researcher, Dr. Harald zur Hausen, to pin down papilloma as the cause.

Another site with an explanation

Whistleblowing, On YouTube

A new outlet for whistleblowers: On YouTube, Charges of Security Flawspdf

Michael De Kort was frustrated.

The 41-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer had complained to his bosses. He had told his story to government investigators. He had called congressmen.

But when no one seemed to be stepping up to correct what he saw as critical security flaws in a fleet of refurbished Coast Guard patrol boats, De Kort did just about the only thing left he could think of to get action: He made a video and posted it on YouTube.com.

“What I am going to tell you is going to seem preposterous,” De Kort solemnly tells viewers near the outset of the 10-minute clip. Posted three weeks ago, the video describes what De Kort says are blind spots in the ship’s security cameras, equipment that malfunctions in cold weather and other problems. […] In response to De Kort’s charges, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said the service has “taken the appropriate level of action.” A spokeswoman for the contractors said the allegations were without merit.

[…] “This is an excellent example of the democratization of the media, where everyone has access to the printing press of the 21st century,” said Dina Kaplan, co-founder of Blip.tv, a site that hosts grass-roots television programming.

Kaplan, like others, was hard-pressed to think of another video like De Kort’s. “We have some people that come to mind that like to complain about government conspiracies,” she said. “But in terms of something truly substantive and credible, nothing springs to mind.”

De Kort knew his strategy for raising concerns about communications and surveillance systems on a 123-foot Coast Guard patrol boat was unorthodox. That was the point.

The video

Whistling Past The Graveyard, Still

Can Blu-ray Heat Up Hollywood Again?pdf

All over the movie business, people are hoping that the new high-definition DVDs — either in its Blu-ray form or its rival HD-DVD — will take off and mitigate the reality that hangs over the home entertainment business. The DVD go-go years are over.

For many in Hollywood, it’s as if they just discovered Santa isn’t real. No matter how bad the movies, the box office, the marketing costs, the bloated star salaries, there was always salvation in the shiny little disc. The studios could make and market one for $5 and then sell it to consumers for more than $17, a tidy profit of at least $12 bucks per disc. The disc generated rivers of cash. “Finding Nemo” is the all-time bestseller on DVD; it made $340 million at the U.S. box office and $537 million in home video.

[…] American homes are now officially crammed with DVD players and copies of everything, including Season 3 of “The Golden Girls,” “Fitzcarraldo” and various special editions of “The Terminator.” According to the Digital Entertainment Network, 80% of all households own DVD players. The most enthusiastic DVD buyers have generally been new DVD owners looking to build their collections. Many people have rafts of the shiny jewel cases they’ve never even opened.

“I don’t know when you’re supposed to watch them all,” sighs one marketing honcho surveying her DVD closet. “I could only hope for a long incapacitation.”

[…] DVD sales constitute 50% to 60% of the revenue on any given picture. Plus, the studios had deemed for themselves the right to be piggy with the booty. Generally, the writers, stars and directors earn royalties that are based on just 20% of a DVD’s net income, with the other 80% pouring right into the studio’s bottom line.

“I think there was a feeling in town that because the DVD was growing, it would cover for sins,” notes Ben Feingold, head of home entertainment for Sony.

[…] “DVD sales will go down this year because consumers know about high definition but they don’t know which format to buy,” says Reed Hastings, chairman of Netflix, the online DVD rental powerhouse that has been growing at the expense of traditional video stores. “The problem with picking sides is that creates consumer anxiety, and so they’ll just stop buying, period, or slow down their buying. The solution to getting the business growing is to have the studios support both formats. In video games, the two main formats are Xbox and PlayStation, and the market does well with two formats.”

At $1,000, the Blu-ray players cost about $500 more than the HD-DVD players, which in turn cost about $450 more than a regular DVD player. Although the new technology provides richer, more detailed imagery, some critics wonder whether consumers will really be able to see the difference if they don’t possess gigantic 65-inch plasma TV screens.

Yet hope springs eternal in Hollywood.

Good luck with that…

Later: High-definition DVD market facing staticpdf

Ain’t Technology Wonderful?

So, is this a good thing? Or a bad one? How do you feel about region “editing” of news content, and the laws that lead to the development of this sort of technology? What does this do to the notion that the NYTimes Online is not exactly the same thing as the NYTimes newspaper?

Essentially the NYTimes Online is continuing the conversion of its online outlet into something distinctly different from the newspaper. The real question is whether the online readership will understand that the Web version of the NYTimes is no longer the “paper of record” (although TimesSelect should have already put the end to that notion).

At least the Times reported it’s doing this. Times Withholds Web Article in Britain

If Web readers in Britain were intrigued by the headline “Details Emerge in British Terror Case,” which sat on top of The New York Times’s home page much of yesterday, they would have been disappointed with a click.

“On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of nytimes.com in Britain,” is the message they would have seen. “This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.”

In adapting technology intended for targeted advertising to keep the article out of Britain, The Times addressed one of the concerns of news organizations publishing online: how to avoid running afoul of local publishing laws.

[…] Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said restricting information fit with trends across the Internet. “There’s a been a sense that technology can create a form of geographic zoning on the Internet for many years now — that they might not be 100 percent effective, but effective enough,” Mr. Zittrain said. “And there’s even a sense that international courts might be willing to take into account these efforts.

I wonder what Jonathan really thinks about this development; the quote is carefully neutral, as one might expect from an attorney….

StopBadWare Aims at AOL

A Watchdog Group Warns Against AOL’s Free Software

The group, StopBadware.org, posted an “open inquiry” into the AOL software yesterday, meaning that a dialogue has been opened with the company and that a full “badware” designation is still pending.

The report, however, stated that the AOL client software, which provides subscribers with a suite of services, also installed extra software deceptively, altered the Web browser and other computer components without notifying the user, and did not uninstall completely, among other “badware behaviors.”

Similar characteristics are often found in pernicious forms of spyware and adware, often called malware. The StopBadware organization was founded in part to assist consumers in spotting shady software. The group is run by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University.

Dataveillance: Airline Travel

Homeland Security wants to know your telephone number, credit card number, travel itinerary, frequent flyer number, next of kin and meal & seating preferences — but it’s for your protection. His op-ed in the Washington Post, A Tool We Need to Stop the Next Airliner Plot (pdf) starts with an amazing assertion and then keeps on going.

Imagine that our troops in Afghanistan raided an al-Qaeda safe house and captured a computer containing the cellphone numbers of operatives in Europe. Wouldn’t it be important to know whether one of those cellphone numbers was used to book a transatlantic flight? Unfortunately, today our ability to make that connection remains limited: Information that terrorists readily share with travel agents cannot easily be shared throughout the United States government. [Emphasis added] That needs to change.

Let’s just think about that for a second: “Information that terrorists readily share with travel agents cannot easily be shared throughout the United States government.” The problem is, he’s not asking to collect that information about terrorists: he wants to collect that information about travelers in the hopes that he can use it to detect terrorists. If we rewrite the sentence to describe what he actually wants, you get something like this — “Information that travelers readily share with travel agents cannot easily be shared throughout the United States government and the government wants to collect and employ that information inconjunction with other data sources to try to figure out whether any of you travelers is a terrorist (no guarantees against either Type I or Type II errors, either).

The fact is that, no, I’m not comfortable with the notion that just because I share information with a travel agent, I should be happy to share it with my government. My travel agent faces a wide range of well established forms of liability should she misuse that data; I’m not sure what obligations my government has (or, worse, will be held to) should it elect to misuse that data. And, as we continue to learn, there are a lot of things that they can do with some of that information.

At this rate, we all need to take a moment and reflect upon the words of the Fourth Amendment, and ask ourselves if it can be reconciles with Secretary Chertoff’s wants:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In case you were wondering what I meant by “keeps on going,” here the Secretary is complaining about the EU’s privacy protections:

The U.S. government has collected PNR [passenger name record] data on travelers aboard international flights to the United States since the early 1990s. This information is of such value that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress mandated its continued collection. But in the past few years European privacy concerns have limited the ability of counterterrorism officials to gain broad access to data of this sort.

*Sigh* Recall that control of travel movements is another one of those slippery slope things that have been used to limit freedom in many societies. How confident are you that it stops with just “collecting” this data? And when has any data collection, once established, found only one application? Do you buy this closing set of arguments?

Protecting personal privacy is a part of responding to the post-Sept. 11 world, but it should not reflexively block us from developing new screening tools. Indeed, more data sharing leads to more precisely targeted screening, which actually improves privacy by reducing questioning and searches of innocent travelers.

Uh-huh. Not to mention reducing the government’s need to submit to any external scrutiny of its actions. Got any bridges for sale, Mr. Secretary?

Later: in case you missed it, expect a full court press on this — see the quote: Bush Shields U.S., Cheney Says: The vice president says `sound policy decisions’ by the president, and a vigilant government, have deterred terrorist strikes since 9/11.pdf

Rumsfeld said that in every war, there had been “setbacks and difficulties” and compared critics of the Iraq war to critics of World War II. Without naming him, Rumsfeld singled out then-U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy.

“When Hitler was bombing London in 1940, a former U.S. ambassador came home and declared, ‘Democracy is finished in England,’ ” Rumsfeld said. “And he said, ‘It may be [finished] here’ as well. Think of that.”

Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, had opposed U.S. involvement in the war and doubted the British could defeat Germany. The elder Kennedy resigned his diplomatic post as war plans progressed and before public support for U.S. involvement surged after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Tell me that you think the LATimes writer came up with that historical tid-bit all on his own.

Much later (Sept 11): and op-ed from the Washington Post — Share Data — and Protect Rightspdf

The Guardian On AOL Search Data

From the UK, where surveillance is at once more common and more worrisome (or more worried about in public, at least) than here: They know all about youpdf

In March this year, a man with a passion for Portuguese football, living in a city in Florida, was drinking heavily because his wife was having an affair. He typed his troubles into the search window of his computer. “My wife doesnt love animore,” he told the machine. He searched for “Stop your divorce” and “I want revenge to my wife” before turning to self-examination with “alchool withdrawl”, “alchool withdrawl sintoms” (at 10 in the morning) and “disfunctional erection”. On April 1 he was looking for a local medium who could “predict my futur”.

But what could a psychic guess about him compared with what the world now knows? This story is one of hundreds, perhaps tens of thousands, revealed this month when AOL published the details of 23m searches made by 650,000 of its customers during a three-month period earlier in the year. The searches were actually carried out by Google – from which AOL buys in its search functions.

[…] All of this information is stored. Google identifies every computer that connects to it with an implant (known as a cookie) which will not expire until 2038. If you also use Gmail, Google knows your email address – and, of course, keeps all your email searchable. If you sign up to have Google ads on a website, then the company knows your bank account details and home address, as well as all your searches. If you have a blog on the free blogger service, Google owns that. The company also knows, of course, the routes you have looked up on Google maps. Yahoo operates a similar range of services.

All this knowledge has been handed over quite freely by us as users. It is the foundation of Google’s fortune because it allows the company to target very precisely the advertising it sends in our direction. Other companies have equally ambitious plans: an application lodged on August 10 with the US Patent & Trademark Office showed that Amazon is hoping to patent ways of interrogating a database that would record not just what its 59 million customers have bought – which it already knows – or what they would like to buy (which, with their wish lists, they tell the world) but their income, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity. The company, of course, already knows who we are and where we live.

[…] This is knowledge beyond the dreams of any secret police in history. Earlier this year Google fought a lawsuit to keep a week’s worth of random search data out of the hands of the US government, but other search companies have handed over their data without complaint and nobody has yet discovered what deals have been struck between search engines and the Chinese government. China is generally thought of as attempting to censor the internet, which it does; search engines that do business in China must censor their own results if they are to succeed. But the real power for a totalitarian government is no longer just censorship. It is to allow its citizens to search for anything they want – and then remember it.

No western government, so far as we know, has gone that far. But if one ever does, it will know where the information is kept that will tell it almost everything about almost everyone. This morning, as I logged in to Googletalk, to chat with my sister, the programme silently upgraded itself. “Would you like to show friends what music you’re playing now?” it asked.

Some recent Furdlog postings here

See also Technology lets ads get personal

Anomaly, Or An Accurate Reflection Of Reality?

As we see increasing development of the multiplayer game as something more that just a game, here’s a pending conflict that’s going to have to get resolved: In Game World, Cheaters Proudly Prosperpdf

Here’s the ugly, sometimes dirty, often-overlooked truth in games: Everyone cheats. In many instances, cheating is built into the game. It’s a multimillion-dollar industry, legally sanctioned. Well, at least most of it.

You can flip through magazines such as Tips & Tricks, which boasts of its “Cheat Code Blowout!” Or buy 150-page strategy guides, the Cliffs Notes of gamers, which last year drew $67 million in sales, according to the NPD Group. Or log on to MyCheats.com, a Wikipedia for the gaming set, the latest in the growing crop of sites that promote cheating in games.

“A thing worth having is a thing worth cheating for,” W.C. Fields once said. Never mind Sophocles’ approach: “I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” When it comes to games, all bets are off.

[…] But what constitutes cheating? Is cheating less objectionable when you don’t have to pay for it? As in, looking up a code on the Internet, where it’s free, versus dropping$16.99 for a copy of the strategy guide for “Madden NFL 2007”? When roaming the online “World of Warcraft,” is cheating warranted so long as the only one affected is you? For example, buying weapons on eBay instead of earning them in the game?

Is cheating ever okay?

“It’s like lying. We all agree that lying is bad, but we all do it anyway, and there are definitely different degrees in which you should do it. Like lying to hold back a surprise party,” says Jason Blake, 23. For tips on “Halo 2,” Blake scours the forums on Bungie.net.

[…] To cheat way back when was to figure out how to keep your character alive and finish the game. To cheat now is to unlock doors and expand the breadth of your game.

“It’s not just cheating, really,” says Sam Kennedy, the mastermind behind the new MyCheats.com.”It’s trying to get more out of the game, kind of like buying a special edition DVD where you get extra stuff.”

I am reminded of this exchange in the “The Big Chill:”

Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?