We believe academics should pursue research that is independent–and not funded by vested interests.Â Here are some of the academics that just received “Google Focused Research Awards.“Â 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
We live in a world that is being increasingly shaped by the forces of digital advertising. It’s a largely global market after all, and there are very important developments in places such as China, India, and in the United Kingdom that have relevance for online privacy in the U.S. This description of the targeted online advertising model embraced by the China-based PinYou is very revealing of where behavioral targeting is today and headed [our emphasis]:
“The idea is really to understand consumers based on behaviors and profile them based on accumulated inputs. Instead of being reactive, we need to be predictive. Instead of indexing pages, or key words, we are indexing consumers Instead of creating preset segments, we understand multiple dimensions of consumers. As a result, we can deliver ads to the right consumers regardless where they are. We target a consumer not because he is now visiting a page, but rather because he has searched some key words, and he has visited certain sites, etc. As a result, different people see different ads when they log on the same page…The long term vision of PinYou is to allow advertisers to be able to come in and define the specific target consumers based on different dimensions for an advertising campaign. PinYouâ€™s system will profile consumers based on multiple inputs, including demographics, psychographics, category interests, lifestyle and purchasing funnel. Through PinYouâ€™s network of publishers, the ad will automatically appear whenever the target consumers visit the page. What Valueclick recently launched in the U.S â€œprecision profilingâ€ is similar to what we have in mind.”
Ms. Huang does say she is aware and concerned about the privacy issues (and refers to the current political debate in the U.S. over online behavioral tracking). You should read the interview. But to us, Ms. Huang primarily embraces a perspective echoed by online marketers in the U.S. that threatens consumer privacy.
source: “Interview with Grace Huang, Founder of Behavioral Targeting Startup PinYou.” Kaiser Koo. Ogilvy Digital Watch. Aug. 15, 2008
John Battelle was on a panel at the recent Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in New York. Here’s an excerpt from his blog post–which I hope you will read in full [our emphasis]: Google’s brand promise – to be neutral, to be above monetary interest – is in conflict with, well, the rest of Google’s brand promise, to be a superstar stock, to grow faster than any company in the history of the world. And all of that is in conflict with …. Google’s brand promise, to get consumers to the best answer, fastest, regardless of who owns the content. Because…sometimes, that content is now owned by Google…Why when you search for stocks does Google Finance come first? Let’s be honest here. It’s not because some neutral algorithm chose Google Finance. It’s because Google owns that data. Google’s representative admitted as much on our panel today. And, given that, can one reasonably ask why, according to Comscore’s data, the preponderance of results that come up in Google’s universal search are YouTube? Might it be because they are they best results? Sure. Might it also be because Google owns YouTube, which is madly trying to monetize the second, third, and fourth click with new models that it hopes to heck are going to pay off?
Yesterday, the FTC sent out a release announcing its November town meeting on online advertising and privacy. The hearing is in response to the formal complaint my group Center for Digital Democracy and the USPIRG filed last November.
It’s clear that the FTC is fearful of really tackling the privacy and consumer-manipulation problems intrinsic to the online ad field. Behavioral targeting, which we also address in our complaint, is just the tip of the proverbial data collection and target marketing iceberg. Policymakers at the FTC, the Congress, and state A-G’s must do a better job in addressing this problem. Chapter seven of my book covers the topic, along with recommendations. As we noted in our statement yesterday, CDD has given the staff at the FTC a ton of material since November, further making the case for immediate federal safeguards. There is so much at stake regarding the future of our (global) democratic culture and its relationship to online marketing. We hope others will join with us and raise the larger societal issues, in addition to the specific online ad marketplace concerns.