Google Funds Privacy Research for several leading academics & advances its mobile data collection work

We believe academics should pursue research that is independent–and not funded by vested interests.  Here are some of the academics that just received “Google Focused Research Awards.“  The check also comes with a further relationship with Google [“These unrestricted grants are for two to three years, and the recipients will have the advantage of access to Google tools, technologies, and expertise.]

Ed Felten, Princeton
Lorrie Cranor, Alessandro Acquisti and Norman Sadeh, Carnegie Mellon University
Ryan Calo, Stanford CIS
Andy Hopper, Cambridge University Computing Laboratory
and: Use of mobile phones as data collection devices for public health and environment monitoring: Gaetano Borriello, University of Washington and Deborah Estrin, UCLA

Tracking Mobile Users by Behavior and Race: Why the FTC Must Address Mobile Privacy ASAP

Here’s a brief excerpt from the “The mobiThinking guide to mobile advertising networks 2010.”  Our emphasis.

Microsoft Mobile Advertising: Targeting capabilities include device, demographic (gender, age, household income), geographic and behavior. Full suite of targeting options, including device, browser, operating system, carrier, on/off-deck, geography, time-segment, content, and multiple demographic combinations.

Nokia Interactive Advertising: Demographics, location, handset type, and in the US by channels (e.g. auto, news, sports.

Quattro Wireless: a) contextual: media type, channel, publisher; b) demographic: gender, age, ethnicity, education; c) location; d) mobile: carrier, device class, manufacturer, model, features, operating system, browser; e) frequency of exposure.

Jumptap: Jumptap offers 64 different targeting options including: demographic, geographic location, carrier, on/off-deck (operator portal), device types and browser, time of day, day of week, content category and frequency controls. These targeting parameters are derived from multiple data courses, including contextual information and true carrier subscriber information. Premium brand advertising guarantees the ad will appear on certain sections of chosen site at the time specified.

Millennial Media: Audience targeting: Millennial can uniquely identify a user across all sites on the network – they are grouped into audiences, based on their observed behaviors on sites, participation and review of click-stream data, so campaigns can be targeted at specific audiences. (Millennial discloses these techniques, with an opt-out in accordance with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, July 2009). Advertisers can also do Run of Network (RON) campaigns or target by channel, custom subnet, takeover, network blocks or demographic. There is also targeting via geography, carrier, handset model/manufacturer/operating system, handset features, age of device, time of day, location, Wi-Fi, etc.

CDD & Consumer Watchdog ask FTC to Block Google/AdMob Deal and also Protect Mobile Consumer Privacy

News Release
Monday, Dec. 28, 2009

Two Consumer Groups Ask FTC To Block Google’s $750 million Purchase Of AdMob
Deal to Buy Mobile Advertising Company Is Anti-Competitive And Raises Privacy Concerns

WASHINGTON, DC — Two consumer groups today asked the Federal Trade Commission to block Google’s $750 million deal to buy AdMob, a mobile advertising company, on anti-trust grounds. In addition, the groups said, the proposed acquisition raises privacy concerns that the Commission must address.

In a joint letter to the FTC, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) said Google is simply buying its way to dominance in the mobile advertising market, diminishing competition to the detriment of consumers.

“The mobile sector is the next frontier of the digital revolution. Without vigorous competition and strong privacy guarantees this vital and growing segment of the online economy will be stifled,” wrote  John M. Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog  and CDD Executive Director Jeffery A. Chester. “Consumers will face higher prices, less innovation and fewer choices.  The FTC should conduct the appropriate investigation, block the proposed Google/AdMob deal, and also address the privacy issues.”

Last week Google said the FTC has made a so-called “second request” for additional information about the deal indicating the commission is scrutinizing the proposal in great detail.

Besides the anti-trust issues, the letter from the two non-partisan, non-profit groups said, a combined Google/AdMob raises substantial privacy concerns.  Both AdMob and Google gather tremendous amounts of data about consumers’ online behavior, including their location.  AdMob, for example, targets consumers using a wide range of methods, including behavioral, ethnicity, age and gender, and education. In addition to its extensive mobile ad apparatus, Google also provides mobile advertising and data driven analytical services through its DoubleClick subsidiary.  The consolidation of AdMob into Google would provide significant amounts of data for tracking, profiling and targeting U.S. mobile consumers.

Read the letter here:

“Permitting the expansion of mobile advertising through the combination of these two market leaders without requiring privacy guarantees poses a serious threat to consumers,” the letter said.  It noted that earlier this year several consumer groups, including CDD, petitioned the FTC to specifically protect consumer privacy on mobile phones, especially involving mobile advertising.

Initially Google was able to obtain its dominance in online search advertising largely because of innovative efforts.  It then moved into display advertising through the acquisition of DoubleClick. When the FTC approved that acquisition, the Commission said it would watch developments in Internet advertising closely. Since that deal was approved, the online and mobile ad markets have evolved substantially, with Google becoming more dominant in the Internet ad market.

“The proposed Google/AdMob deal offers the FTC an opportunity to check Google’s increasingly anticompetitive behavior,” Simpson said. “This deal is yet one more example of Google attempting to eliminate a threat to its power.”   “The FTC must protect competition and personal privacy in the key mobile sector,” noted Chester.

– 30 –

Consumer and Privacy Groups at FTC Roundtable to Call for Decisive Agency Action

Washington, DC, December 6, 2009 – On Monday December 7, 2009, consumer representatives and privacy experts speaking at the first of three Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Exploring Privacy Roundtable Series will call on the agency to adopt new policies to protect consumer privacy in today’s digitized world. Consumer and privacy groups, as well as academics and policymakers, have increasingly looked to the FTC to ensure that Americans have control over how their information is collected and used.

The groups have asked the Commission to issue a comprehensive set of Fair Information Principles for the digital era, and to abandon its previous notice and choice model, which is not effective for consumer privacy protection.

Specifically, at the Roundtable on Monday, consumer panelists and privacy experts will call on the FTC to stop relying on industry privacy self-regulation because of its long history of failure. Last September, a number of consumer groups provided Congressional leaders and the FTC a detailed blueprint of pro-active measures designed to protect privacy, available at:

These measures include giving individuals the right to see, have a copy of, and delete any information about them; ensuring that the use of consumer data for any credit, employment, insurance, or governmental purpose or for redlining is prohibited; and ensuring that websites should only initially collect and use data from consumers for a 24-hour period, with the exception of information categorized as sensitive, which should not be collected at all. The groups have also requested that the FTC establish a Do Not Track registry.

Quotes from Monday’s panelists:

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC: “There is an urgent need for the Federal Trade Commission to address the growing threat to consumer privacy.  The Commission must hold accountable those companies that collect and use personal information. Self-regulation has clearly failed.”

Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy: “Consumers increasingly confront a sophisticated and pervasive data collection apparatus that can profile, track and target them online. The Obama FTC must quickly act to protect the privacy of Americans,including information related to their finances, health, and ethnicity.”

Susan Grant, Consumer Federation of America: “It’s time to recognize privacy as a fundamental human right and create a public policy framework that requires that right to be respected,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at Consumer Federation of America. “Rather than stifling innovation, this will spur innovative ways to make the marketplace work better for consumers and businesses.”

Pam Dixon, World Privacy Forum: “Self-regulation of commercial data brokers has been utterly ineffective to protect consumers. It’s not just bad actors who sell personal information ranging from mental health information, medical status, income, religious and ethnic status, and the like. The sale of personal information is a routine business model for many in corporate America, and neither consumers nor policymakers are aware of the amount of trafficking in personal information. It’s time to tame the wild west with laws that incorporate the principles of the Fair Credit Reporting Act to ensure transparency, accountability, and consumer control.”

Written statements and other materials for the roundtable panelists are available at the following links:





“Cookie Wars, Real-Time Targeting, and Proprietary Self Learning Algorithms: Why the FTC Must Act Swiftly to Protect Consumer Privacy”

That’s the title of comments filed at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by my Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. PIRG.  I also just gave a presentation with the same name at last week’s meeting of data protection commissioners in Madrid, Spain.   It’s available here.

Here’s an excerpt:   Today, consumers online face the rapid growth and ever-increasing sophistication of the various techniques advertisers employ for data collection, profiling, and targeting across all online platforms. The growth of ad and other optimization services for targeting, involving real-time bidding on ad exchanges; the expansion of data collection capabilities from the largest advertising agencies (with the participation of leading digital media content and marketing companies); the increasing capabilities of mobile marketers to target users via enhanced data collection; and a disturbing growth of social media surveillance practices for targeted marketing are just a few of the developments the commission must address. But despite technical innovation and what may appear to be dramatic changes in the online data collection/profiling/targeting market, the commission must recognize that the underlying paradigm threatening consumer privacy online has been constant since the early 1990’s. So-called “one-to-one marketing,” where advertisers collect as much as possible on individual consumers so they can be targeted online, remains the fundamental approach.

Microsoft’s Mobile Behavioral Targeting includes deal with ad giant Publicis

The growing integration of data collection and targeting across key platforms by key online marketing conglomerates, such as Microsoft, with advertising agencies is one issue that policymakers must address.  Here’s an excerpt from a Sept. 21, 2009 announcement on Microsoft’s mobile marketing plans:

Publicis Groupe’s Phonevalley, the world’s leading mobile marketing agency and part of the VivaKi Nerve Center, announced today a strategic agreement to create customized mobile advertising solutions, technology and metrics that will run across Microsoft’s mobile web properties, including the Microsoft Media Network, Bing and MSN. The packaged solutions will be available in 14 markets worldwide, including the U.S., the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany.

This alliance strenghtens the relationship between Microsoft Advertising and VivaKi. It furthermore reinforces the VivaKi strategy to build a market leader in digital communications, in an increasingly mobile world.

Phonevalley and Microsoft Mobile Advertising will work together to design innovative packaged mobile advertising solutions for six industry verticals: luxury, retail, entertainment, automotive, travel and financial services… To efficiently drive the most qualified audience, the package would take advantage of the innovative ad formats and new targeted mobile media features such as behavioural targeting developed by Microsoft Advertising.

Additionally, by utilizing data from dedicated vertical research and post test results, advertisers can further improve the efficiency and efficacy of their campaigns to better engage with their target mobile audiences.

Microsoft’s “Sweeping Vision” for Online Ads: “unlocking the Holy Grail of marketing” by “mining user intent”

The digital data collection arms race is unleashing powerful forces focused on data collection and consumer targeting across much of the online world.  As advertisers meet to discuss and celebrate their accomplishment and plans, as part of Advertising Week, Microsoft is playing a leading role.  As you read about their plans from this excerpt in Adweek, keep in mind that they hope to bundle their search marketing platform with Yahoo!

Microsoft is heading into Advertising Week looking to capture the ad industry’s attention by laying out a sweeping vision for the online advertising market and the integral part it plans to play in its the future…At the heart of that undertaking is the plan to build a product that can determine exactly what ads Web users want to see and when. “At the core, the most important thing to us is mining user intent,” Howe [Scott Howe, corporate vp, Microsoft’s advertiser and publisher solutions group], said. “What does a user really want to see in the way of advertising.”

That’s easy in search. But intent is not so clear on content sites or social networks. “If Bing is step one [for Microsoft Advertising], step two is extending that engine to power the ads that someone sees across all display ad formats and multiple devices,” Howe said.

…”When people talk about behavioral targeting, often they’re talking about flat display formats on a PC — and we’re talking about across all digital devices,” he said. “And so, by having this engine power all the different things holistically, we’re actually in some respects unlocking the Holy Grail of marketing.”

Microsoft Extends Behavioral Targeting to Mobile [Bing Will be Ringing & Tracking & Profiling]

Read this excerpt from the Microsoft Advertising announcement released today.  And ask if your privacy is really protected when they use your search data to target you over mobile devices for “financial services,” “lifestyles,” and other “behavioral segments.”

Today we launched our Mobile Behavioral Targeting Solution, which means all of the powerful behavioral targeting options, segments and categories previously only available on our online properties are now available to buyers of our mobile display inventory as well.

Mobile behavioral targeting enables advertisers to reduce advertising waste and maximize the impact and ROI of their mobile campaigns by targeting consumers who have already demonstrated an interest in specific product categories. Over one hundred behavioral segments across popular advertiser categories such as Automotive, Financial Services, Health, Lifestyle, Life Stages, News and Entertainment, Retail, Technology and Travel are available for purchase.

How does Microsoft measure behavior?

Microsoft Behavioral Targeting works by anonymously tracking behaviors of users and classifying these users into unique segments using information from the following data sources:

. PC Web keyword search behavior from Bing Search

. PC Web Site visits to various sites across the Microsoft network

. Microsoft network data (i.e. Hotmail newsletters, Xbox subscription data)

. Profile data from Windows Live

With Microsoft Mobile Behavioral Targeting, data from these sources and others is factored together along with its relevancy to create hundreds of unique, specific segments. Within these niches are the consumers who are most likely to be receptive to your message. Your mobile ads are served only to users in your desired segments, enabling you to refine your reach and increase your campaign’s performance. Simple yet powerful, Behavioral Targeting is one of the most effective and efficient forms of mobile advertising available today.

Here at Microsoft we understand that preserving consumer trust is essential to the success of our business. Microsoft maintains a strong focus on protecting customers’ privacy and adheres to high privacy standards. Our Mobile Behavioral Targeting Solutions do not utilize personally identifiable information (like name, address or phone number).

Technology Policy Institute Spins the Privacy Debate in D.C.–Group funded by Some of the Biggest Data Collection Companies

Today, the Technology Policy Institute (TPI) is holding a Hill forum on privacy and the Internet.  The group’s announcement for the event states that More privacy, however, would mean less information, less valuable advertising, and thus fewer resources available for producing new low-priced services.  It is this tradeoff that Congress needs to take into account as it considers new privacy legislation.”

What an absurd, reductionistic, and intellectually-dishonest claim.  First, this group is funded by some of the largest companies engaged in behavioral data collection and also fighting meaningful privacy policies.   That includes Google and Time Warner.  TPI’s other funders involved in some form of data collection and targeted interactive marketing include AT&T, Cisco, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Verizon.  Rep. Cliff Stearns, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on the Communications, Technology, and the Internet is speaking at the event: that committee is currently drafting privacy legislation to protect consumers.  Panel speakers include TPI supporters Google and Comcast.  The lone privacy group on the panel, CDT, is funded by Google and others.  One academic on the panel also works for a high-tech consulting company.  The other panel academic has done fine work on social networks and privacy.

What makes TPI’s posturing absurd, beyond its funding conflicts, is the current economic crisis.  Consumer privacy laws are required to ensure that our financial, health and other personal transactions online are conducted in a responsible manner.  Anyone–or group–who believes that we can’t have both privacy and a robust online marketplace is out of touch.

A Mobile Marketer explains how they build a profile, including operator, geographic, demographic, search query data [Annals of Mobile Marketing]

Here’s an excerpt from an video interview we transcribed with Paran Johar, CMO of Jumptap (a mobile marketing company).  The interview was done at the Mobile World Congress, Barcelona 16-19 February, 2009:

“Journalist: You have a lot of intelligence built in to your engines in the back. How is that working together? How far down can you deep-dive in the targeting? How granular can you get?
PJ: Number one; Targeting is only important as long as you have scale and reach. So we need to kind of frame that out. Number two; we take inputs from various sources. So, we take operator data, whatever they want to pass to us, they can pass us. Certainly with AT&T we get geographic data from them, in some cases we get demographic data, we get search word query data, whether we are the search engine or if it is Google, Yahoo or Microsoft, that can get passed to us, contextual data and behavioral data. We take all that together and we score it, build a taxonomy to build a profile that will serve a relevant ad. We believe mobile phone is the most personal devices…
Journalist: … How much of an issue is the analytics now and are you positive and upbeat now that you feel that maybe mobile operators are getting their head around this to deliver it?
PJ: That’s a great point. A couple of things with the GSMA-Comscore UK trials. Number one, was absolutely wonderful that it fostered collaboration among operators for various audience segments. Number two, it was wonderful that they looked beyond just geographic, demographic, but they also include behavioral profiles in terms of their audience assessment. I also think it is very interesting that they are moving forward without actually being able to monetize this and building a platform so advertisers can participate in this. I think from a metric standpoint, the next thing that we are gonna look for is really standardization of post clip metrics and how to integrate that into
advertising campaigns.
Journalist: That’s an interesting idea. How do you envision that? How should it be?
PJ: It gets a little complicated but it shouldn’t be. In it’s simplest form you just have post-click, like a click to action. You click on the ad unit, you perform some action and it calls a pixel and you register that. But with mobile you obviously have different actions that can occur. It could be click to a map, it could be click to call, click to SMS. How do you track those actions? How do you then integrate them into a reporting structure, which is key. And we are building the tools to make it easy for media planners, agencies and clients to actually track all their actions holistically and then optimize their campaigns so that they are reaching their maximum ROI.”