The Customer-Advertiser Arms Race

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“Social media is all about relationships. If you want to find people’s relationships, an address book is the best place to go. It’s like if you want to rob a bank, go where the money is.” – Joe Turow

There was a fantastic segment on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday that featured Joseph Turow speaking with Terry Gross on how advertisers are tracking customers across the web, social networks and mobile. It’s most definitely worth a listen. I’ve linked both the audio segment as well as the transcript below.

Listen: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/22/147189154/how-companies-are-defining-your-worth-online

Transcript: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=147189154

Interview Highlights (excerpted from the NPR web site linked above)

On the categories advertisers use to track you online

“Most of them have to do with demographics like age and gender and income. Some of them have to do with where you live, which can be very specific to particular neighborhoods sometimes. Some of them are weird, like socially organic eaters, but that has to do more with how companies make inferences about how you act. … Go to a company called Acxiom on the Web. You will see a catalog of maybe 100 pages of the kinds of things that this company sells about all of us. They sell whether you look for diabetic stuff online, whether you’re interested in orthopedic products, whether you’ve gone on vacation. They will sell what kinds of credit cards you have. And all of this is perfectly legal, and it can be used for online targeting as well as offline targeting.”

On how apps can store and transmit information in your phone’s address book

“It remains to be seen how many companies took out and take out that data and what is done with them, but you can see that it could give you an enormous amount of stuff. … You can look at a person’s camera and actually turn it on if you wanted to. A person might notice that the camera’s on, but you could look at his friends or her friends and identify them if you wanted to, in a certain kind of world. You could look at the person’s photos, contact lists. That’s potentially the case with what people have been saying about the Apple iOS.”

On Twitter and other companies gathering information from people’s address books on their iPhones

“Social media is all about relationships. If you want to find people’s relationships, an address book is the best place to go. It’s like if you want to rob a bank, go where the money is.”

On Facebook

“The amount of money Facebook gets per user from advertisers is not nearly the amount of money that Google gets. But the potential is there, and that’s why Wall Street has been going after them.

“They gather everything that you do on Facebook. Facebook scarfs it all up. We know that Facebook has the ability and does target you on their website in an enormous number of ways. They don’t give your name to any of the advertisers — it’s all done anonymously. I’m not a fan of the distinction between anonymity and nonanonymity. … If you’re Joe Schmoe online or they know your real name or they give you an identification number — and so much of our lives is done online — in the end it doesn’t matter. You’re treated like a person who they know with all of the possible discriminatory activities we’ve talked about.”

On online media

“I would argue that the 20th century taught people that content is cheap. Because on television and radio it was free, in newspaper and magazines, they got huge amounts of stuff paying very little. And as a consequence, when the world starts changing and there’s a lot more competition because there’s no longer one place to get news in print, the notion of paying for a lot of people became anathema.”

On European privacy policies and an upcoming U.S. privacy policy

“They believe in privacy as [a] human right. And that’s the interesting thing about how [the upcoming] Commerce Department report is positioned: as a right. There are some advocates who don’t like what they see in the policy because they think it’s too loose. But the very fact that it’s called a right is interesting rhetorically. Some people would say they’re moving in the right direction.”

On data-mining and politics

“Politicians want to get votes. And they have begun to realize what consumer products companies realize: that if you get a lot of information about people, you can predict how they might act or what they might believe, even to the point [of thinking] ‘What kind of car do people who might vote Republican have vs. Democrats?’ And the more data points you have, the belief system is, the more likelihood that you can get on the right side of a person. So companies have evolved over the last few years that are essentially data-mining companies for various political organizations. Even the Obama campaign is perceived to be at the forefront of this stuff. If you go to their privacy policy, they take everything. When people give information about themselves for whatever reason on the Obama website, [the campaign] keeps it, they use it, they buy other information about you if they want. And on their privacy policy, it says they might share it with political organizations they consider conducive.”

photo: Kyle Cassidy

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