NYU Legal Ethics Expert Says FTC Chair Majoras should recuse in Google/Doubleclick review

Before we run this legal comment, we want to make something clear. This is about ensuring transparency and accountability in the process. It’s not about political ideology or trying to affect the outcome of a proceeding. There are standards that must be adhered to when one is serving the public (oh, and btw, the idea of disappearing web pages from the Jones Day website reflects, I suggest, their own ethical confusion as well). Here’s an important perspective from today’s Online Media Daily:

“Legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University Law School, maintains that there’s no question that Deborah Platt Majoras should recuse herself, regardless of whether Jones Day appeared before the FTC in the matter. John Majoras “stands to gain from the success of Jones Day, especially in a high-profile case like this and, therefore, her decision can affect his interest and therefore her interest,” Gillers said.”

“DoubleClick Law Firm Accused Of Concealing Involvement In Merger.” Wendy Davis. December 14, 2007

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Microsoft cooks your data: Gatineau and behavioral targeting

As our online behaviors are continually tracked and analyzed, more about us is known–by marketers and others. Web analytics–software that analyzes how one interacts with a site, is being merged with behavioral measurement and other identifying technologies. Microsoft is moving further in this area, including with its “Gatineau” product. Explains Online Metrics Insider:

“Once demographic information is captured in a registration database, it can be joined with behavioral data in the Web analytics system and reported on. For a real-world example of analytics/demographic integration, take a look at what Microsoft is doing with Gatineau, the company’s free Web analytics offering currently in beta. Microsoft is joining Web site behavioral data with rich demographic data from MS Live profiles.”

What can Microsoft collect? The Micro Marketing blog explains that “Gatineau provides unique insight into the age, gender, and occupation of your site’s visitors…Microsoft stores demographic and behavioral targeting data about a person separately from their contact information with strong safeguards in place to prevent “unauthorized correlation” of the separate data sets…What kind of data is accumulated? Certainly the information you supply when signing up for Hotmail or any number of Microsoft services. As well, your behavior on Microsoft web sites—which sites you visit, which parts of those sites, and how often. Also, publicly available data supplied by third parties may be used to complete your profile…From this data a site can build a detailed profile of the content that interests you and then use that profile to provide additional content or offers relevant to your interests.”

In another words–where is the FTC, the EC, and other privacy regulators!

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Interactive Advertising Goes to War: New Media Marketing and the Military

The role of interactive marketing and how it influences individual and group behavior must become a greater part of the debate about our digital democratic future. The U.K.’s Royal Navy’s interactive “Get The Message” multimedia ad campaign just won the “Grand Prix” at the fourth Interactive Marketing and Advertising Awards. Read this excerpt from New Media Age Magazine’s special supplement on the Navy’s successful digital marketing effort to drive recruitment.

“The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the job of recruiting for the armed forces one of the toughest briefs out there. Recruitment levels have been on the wane for several months, with many servicemen and women leaving when their tour of duty is over, and not enough new recruits signing up owing to preconceptions about what to expect from a life in the forces. This was the problem facing the Royal Navy, which wanted to attract a demographically broad audience of 15-24-year-old adults to dispel myths about what it’s like to be part of the Royal Navy, and to show the human face of the force so it would be considered as a viable career path…Digital creative agency Glue London and mobile agency Sponge
came together to meet the challenge. The target audience was broken down into three attitudinal groups: ‘optimistic achievers’, ‘enthusiastic followers’ and ‘unfulfilled potentials’. It was identified that these groups had different recruitment journeys online, going through the phases of inspiration, consideration, information seeking and persuasion…Lifestyle, gaming, sports and music sites were used to reach the target audience and creative executions were specifically designed to suit these sites, while being as impactful and dramatic as possible…a personalised interactive piece of viral content was created that enabled potential recruits to engage in a deeper level than is possible in an ordinary ad. Users went online to choose a specific branch of the Royal Navy…the create their own message within the video content that could be sent to an email address or mobile phone…The campaign was a resounding success…secured 50,000 emails for the Royal Navy to use…Interaction rates were high…the ‘Mine’ ad… [had] almost 2m people [interacting with it].”

Ask.com new Privacy Policy: We need Federal Rules for all—not just one imperfect corporate plan

Barry Diller’s Ask.com has unveiled a new service called “AskEraser” that is designed to help address some of the privacy problems intrinsic to digital marketing. It’s also an effort to gain some attention for a search service long under the interactive shadow of its competitors–especially Google. Ask only receives approximately 5% of searches, compared to Google’s nearly 65%, according to Hitwise. But Ask’s new plan is more in response to the building pressure for government safeguards growing in North American and in the E.U. Without the growing call for policies and the various efforts to force the FTC to start paying more attention to consumer privacy (such as our series of complaints that led to the recent “town hall”), companies such as Ask would not readily try to differentiate themselves by being more privacy-focused. Although we do applaud its move. But there are glaring problems that underscore why the U.S. requires a single national policy designed to protect all of our digital information.

For example, Ask’s recent $3.5 billion deal with Google for search display advertising would allow the search giant to gain access to some of the data. There are also some critically important exceptions to what AskEraser can do. For example, in its revised privacy policy, Ask explains (our emphasis):

“Third Party Service Providers. Some elements on the Sites, such as news content, our Smart Answers, or the sponsored links advertising on our search results pages, are supplied to us by third parties under contract. In those cases, we may supply some information we gather from you to those third-parties so that they can provide those elements for display on the Sites. Information that we may share with third parties is: (a) your Internet Protocol (IP) address; (b) the address of the last URL you visited prior to clicking through to the Site; (c) your browser and platform type (e.g., a Netscape browser on a Macintosh platform); (d) your browser language; (e) the data in any undeleted cookies that your browser previously accepted from us and (f) the search queries you submit. For example, when you submit a query we transmit it (and some of the related information described above) to our paid listing providers in order to obtain relevant advertising to display in response to your query. We may merge information about you into group data, which may then be shared on an aggregated basis with our advertisers. If you provide us with answers to voluntary survey questions, we may present this information to our advertisers and partners in the form of grouped statistics compiled from our users’ answers to such questions. These third party companies have their own policies as to record keeping and data retention. Even if AskEraser is enabled, your search activity will not automatically be deleted from the servers of these third party companies.”

Some privacy advocates suggest that this announcement shows the “market” is working. No doubt, that’s what Google and the other online advertisers opposed to a serious privacy policy will echo, whispering it to regulators, lawmakers and journalists. Self-regulation, especially with loopholes and exceptions, is no replacement for meaningful consumer protection for all Americans. That’s why a national privacy policy is required.

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Facebook, Privacy Policy, Carnegie Mellon study, and the need for Federal Safeguards

As part of the ERISA process, a Carnegie Mellon University Heinz School & CyLab research project was presented in June 2007 at a workshop on “Security Issues in Social Networking. “Imagined Communities: Awareness, information sharing and privacy in online social networks,” was the title of the presentation by Alessandro Acquisti (with Ralph Gross) [available along with other papers for download]. It included a survey of students in 2006 that explored their perceptions about how private was their data. Here’s one of the findings from the powerpoint presentation given in June. These should help galvanize policymakers into taking action–before the FTC is held responsible for failing to protect the nation’s youth.

“Facebook‘s privacy policy,revisited

“Facebook also collects information about you from other sources, such as newspapers and instant messaging services. This information is gathered regardless of your use of the Web Site.”
67% believe that is not the case
“We use the information about you that we have collected from other sources to supplement your profile unless you specify in your privacy settings that you do not want this to be done.”
70% believe that is not the case

“In connection with these offerings and business operations, our service providers may have access to your personal information for use in connection with these business activities.”
56% believe that is not the case
Control: perusal of privacy policy does not improve awareness

In the summary, they report that:

“Only a small percentage of Facebook users changes the highly permeable default privacy settings
As a consequence, a considerable number of users expose themselves to various privacy risks
An individual’s privacy concerns are only a weak predictor of his/her membership to the network
Also privacy concerned individuals join the network and reveal great amounts of personal information
Some users manage their privacy concerns by trusting their ability to control the information they provide and the external access to it
However, we find evidence of members’ misconceptions about the online community’s actual size and composition, and about the visibility of members’ profiles
We documented changes in information revelation behavior subsequent to pracy-related information exposure.”

Statements on Mark Zuckerberg’s “Thoughts on Beacon” announcement

From: Jeff Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy [202-494-7100]

Kathryn C. Montgomery, Ph.D. Professor of Communication, American University. Author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet (MIT Press, 2007) [202-885-2680]

Jeff Chester: “Today’s announcement that Facebook users will be able to turn off Beacon, following last week’s opt-in changes, is a step in the right direction. But Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t truly candid with Facebook users. Beacon is just one aspect of a massive data collection and targeting system put in place by Facebook. It’s not really about the company’s desire ‘to build a simple product…lightweight’ that would, as he writes, ‘let people share information across sites with their friends.’ Mr. Zuckerberg’s goal, as he explained on November 6, 2007, was to transform Facebook into ‘a completely new way of advertising online.’ Facebook has rewired its social network to better serve the data collection interests of marketers who, promised Mr. Zuckerberg, are now ‘going to be a part of the conversation’.

“Mr. Zuckerberg can’t simply now do a digital “mea culpa” and hope that Facebook’s disapproving members, privacy advocates, and government regulators will disappear. Nor should Facebook’s brand advertisers permit this statement to diminish the real privacy and security concerns embodied by Facebook’s new targeted ad system. CDD will continue to press U.S. and EU regulators to address Facebook’s significant privacy problem.”

Kathryn Montgomery: “Facebook’s announcement today is a stopgap measure designed to quell the huge public outcry from consumer groups and users over its ill-advised new marketing scheme. The move to allow users to turn Beacon off entirely may restore a small measure of control to Facebook’s members, but it is by no means an adequate safeguard for ensuring privacy protection on this and other social networking platforms. These companies are continuing full steam ahead with new generation of intrusive marketing practices that are based on unprecedented levels of data collection and personal profiling. Regulatory agencies in the U.S. and in Europe need to conduct a thorough investigation of these new forms of social network marketing and develop rules to ensure that consumers are fully protected in the emerging broadband era.”

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MySpace and Privacy: Why is Fox Trying to Evade its Privacy Problems?

We have criticized both Facebook and MySpace regarding their expanded data collection & targeting efforts. Incredibly, Fox doesn’t think MySpace has a privacy problem. As reported by Online Media Daily [reg. may be required. our emphasis]:

While touting early results of the social networking site’s behavioral ad platform, which launched last month, FIM Chief Revenue Officer Michael Barrett also assured a packed room at the UBS 35th Annual Global Media and Communications conference Monday that MySpace’s ad strategy wouldn’t run afoul of privacy concerns that have tripped up rival Facebook’s Beacon program. “We’ve heard loud and clear there’s a growing desire for regulation for the Internet in general, and now targeting specifically,” Barrett said. “We are going about [targeting] in a very up-front, opt-out way.”

MySpace’s HyperTargeting platform lets advertisers and agencies more easily create advertising aimed at specific user groups based on the personal interests expressed in members’ MySpace profiles. Unlike Beacon, which broadcasts Facebook users’ activities on outside sites, Barrett said the data mined on MySpace for advertisers’ benefit is from information “freely and openly” provided in users’ profiles.”

What’s that again? Does Fox Interactive believe that just because users place information in their profiles, it’s open season for data collection and hypertargeting? The mining and harvesting of member data is bringing home the dough, it appears. FIM’s Barrett claimed that the new hypertargeting program has “led to a 50% to 300% gain in click-through rates for participating advertisers and a 50% gain in CPM rates.” Here’s a News Corp. Tv series pitch for post-writer’s strike. How about an animated series entitled “Fox in the data collection henhouse.”

PS: Mediaweek reports that “Barrett said… the site mines its vast database of user-reported preferences to produce better targeted ads (reaching self reported travel enthusiasts with travel ads, for example). Barrett reported that the new product had identified 549 specific, targetable groups on the site, and will yield over a thousand by the end of the year…MySpace will also be “able to leverage its database of user-supplied information to sell targeted ads around video.”

EC Enisa Report Underscores Privacy Threats and other Risks from Social Networks: Wake-Up Time for Facebook, MySpace, IAB, FTC, Congress. Rules & Safeguards Required

The expanded targeting based on user profile activity launched last month by both Facebook and MySpace underscore why we must craft federal (and EU) rules to govern the data collection apparatus of social networks. By combining behavioral targeting, transaction data, and profile information, Facebook and others have entered into a new territory. Even industry insiders understand how a line has been crossed: one senior VP at Digitas (part of the Publicis Groupe ad industry empire) noted that [our emphasis]:

“Facebook has made an announcement that has major implications for how marketers can communicate to members going forward. Essentially, Facebook said that it will allow marketers to target members with ads based on its user’s personal profiles, social connections and even the recent activities of each user’s extended network.

This announcement marks a significant departure in the way social networks have been organized to date. Until now, marketers have had limited opportunity to serve ads directly to users within the social network. With this change, marketers will now have the opportunity to target consumers directly based on attitudinal, behavioral and demographic attributes included directly in or inferred from personal profiles and connections online.”

We have sent out to the FTC today this new report [pdf] by ENISA—the European Network and Information Security Agency. Released in October, “Security Issues and Recommendations for Online Social Networks” is worth reading—for its clear and thoughtful analysis and, frankly, its disturbing implications. It’s clear from the start of the paper that social networking sites (SNS) are more than just commercial or personal playgrounds—they are, notes ENISA—“…all-embracing identity management tools…” As the report explains:

“Users are often not aware of the size or nature of the audience accessing their profile data and the sense of intimacy created by being among digital `friends’ often leads to disclosures which are not appropriate to a public forum. Such commercial and social pressures have led to a number of privacy and security risks for SN members.”

Among the “threats” the report lists includes:

1.1 Digital dossier aggregation: profiles on
online SNSs can be downloaded and stored
by third parties, creating a digital dossier of
personal data.
1.2 Secondary data collection: as well as data
knowingly disclosed in a profile, SN
members disclose personal information
using the network itself: e.g. length of
connections, other users’ profiles visited
and messages sent. SNSs provide a central
repository accessible to a single provider.
The high value of SNSs suggests that such
data is being used to considerable financial
1.3 Face recognition: user-provided digital
images are a very popular part of profiles
on SNSs. The photograph is, in effect, a
binary identifier for the user, enabling
linking across profiles, e.g. a fully identified
Bebo profile and a pseudo-anonymous
dating profile.
1.6 Difficulty of complete account deletion:
users wishing to delete accounts from SNSs
find that it is almost impossible to remove
secondary information linked to their
profile such as public comments on other

Among the report’s other recommendations include the need to consider reviewing regulatory safeguards and data protection law, such as the FTC’s Fair Information Practices. Social networks have become a place where people are living out their lives, sharing intimate details about their identity. They cannot be operated as data mining and digital marketing operations solely. They must operate in the public interest as well, including rules protecting privacy for those under 18.

It’s time for a broad range of stakeholders to work together to address what must be done.

PS: ENISA held a conference on the issue last June, featuring a number of interesting papers.

Mr. Murdoch’s Gets Religion: Will Give the Faithful some of that `Old Time’ Behavioral Targeting

A brief the `spirit-meets-the-digital-age’ note just in time for the holidays. Paidcontent.org reports that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. will acquire Beliefnet, a “multi-faith community site.” Beliefnet describes itself as the “largest spiritual website.” Its mission is “to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness. Whether you’re exploring your own faith or other spiritual traditions, we provide you inspiring devotional tools, access to the best spiritual teachers and clergy in the world, thought-provoking commentary, and a supportive community.”

As Paidcontent notes, the acquisition makes sense, given Murdoch’s corporate “faith-based efforts including Fox Faith, the 20th Century Fox line of movies aimed at the religious set and operating under Fox Home Entertainment, publishing houses HarperOne and Zondervan.”

But under the deal, those faith and spiritual seekers will be the focus of behavioral targeting and micro-marketing, courtesy of Fox Interactive Media (the Murdoch unit that operates MySpace, among other News Corp. digital properties). Beliefnet will “be using FIM’s targeted ad delivery platform.”

Now we will have to considering that in addition to the FTC, we will need to ask the Vatican, the National Council of Churches, and the Union for Reform Judaism to also launch investigations into behavioral targeting! That ‘old time’ religion meets the digital era.