Privacy Oxymoron: “Anonymous” but “custom ads for each and every individual”

We file this in the `FTC has to change its definition of what should be considered personally identifiable information’ department.

Via adknowledge. “Our Targeting: Adknowledge use behavioural targeting technologies behind the scenes to deliver the most appropriate ads. Our system processes billions of calculations a day to deliver ads to the right user at the precise moment that they are most likely to purchase…These systems are strictly anonymous and operate without any specific user-level data (non-PII data). Our systems work with over 200 million behavioral data points and 100 terabytes of storage to calculate custom ads for each and every individual.”

Online Ad Firm Agrees that Cookies Can “Be Matched to Specific User Details”

The online ad industry has been hiding behind the claim that cookies, IP addresses, pixel tags, and other methods of tracking don’t identify users. But inside the industry, a different conversation occurs. That’s why it’s always important when an industry official offers us a glimpse of how they view online ad industry data collection practices. In “Digital Brands 2008,” a UK-based publication, there’s such a helpful comment: “Rob Watt, media director at digital agency Avenue A/Razorfish, says, “If users fully understood how cookies work and how they can be used for behaviourial targeting, for example, then they’d probably opt out. Although data is anonymous, it could be matched to specific user details.” [Digital Branding-Privacy Issues. Nicola Smith, NMA Magazine. April 3, 2008. sub required].

sub. required

Behavioral Targeting and Privacy an issue in any Google and Yahoo! Deal

What data on users may be shared in any deal has to be part of the regulatory review if Google and Yahoo! create an ad-serving pact. Yahoo! has expanded its behavioral targeting, explaining that “[W]ith more behavioral data, real-time updates and audience modeling, Yahoo! Behavioral Targeting can deliver larger audiences and better performance than before.” Google is moving slowly, we believe, to enable behavioral targeting over its network, including the services offered by its DoubleClick division. As we have said, there are also serious privacy concerns involved with any Microsoft takeover. But privacy advocates will need to press policymakers to engage in a serious examination of the data collection issues. Given the growing recognition that IP addresses are among the data points which reflect our identity, these upcoming alliances and mergers should lead to the kind of global privacy debate about online advertising that has been lacking so far.

A Yahoo! & Google Deal is anti-competitive, raises privacy concerns

Based on news coverage [reg. required], it appears that Google and Yahoo! will attempt to team up in some way. We will await to see the details. But we want to point readers to Yahoo! 2008 annual 10K report. It discusses Google’s role as a competitor–something which would basically vanish in any outsourcing of its search ad business. As Yahoo! explained, “[W]e face significant competition from companies, principally Google, Microsoft, and AOL, that have aggregated a variety of Internet products, services and content in a manner similar to Yahoo! Google’s Internet search service directly competes with us for Affiliate and advertiser arrangements, both of which are key to our business and operating results…Additionally, Google and Microsoft both offer many other services that directly compete with our services, including consumer e-mail services, desktop search, local search, instant messaging, photos, maps, video sharing, content channels, mobile applications, and shopping services.” Yahoo! also made clear that search was an integral part of its business plan: “We believe that we can expand our communities of users by offering compelling Internet services and effectively integrating search, community, personalization, and content to create a powerful user experience. We leverage our user relationships and the social community the users create to enhance our online advertising potential, as well as our fee-based services.” Once Yahoo!, in our view, cedes part of its search ad business to its leading competitor, it will not have the viability to pursue growth relying primarily on building out its display business. Search and display, cross-platform and application, are increasingly inseparable necessities in order to survive in the online ad business.

Why too, would Yahoo!, in essence, neglect its investment to improve its search ad technology–known as Panama. In its annual 10 K, Yahoo! explained that it “launched its new search marketing system, known as Project Panama, in the fourth quarter of 2006. This system provides advertisers with additional tools for budgeting, testing, and optimizing their marketing campaigns. This new system also provides a new ranking model launched in early February 2007 as the second phase of Project Panama that ranks ads by relevance in addition to keyword bid price. We believe the new search marketing system provides a more relevant search experience to users, more valuable customer leads to advertisers, and additional opportunities to our distribution partners. We have completed the global roll-out of the technology across all relevant geographies.”

As Yahoo! told shareholders and the SEC in 2007, “[O]ur Search offerings are often the starting point for users navigating the Internet and searching for information, whether from their computer or mobile device. In Search, our goal is to provide the world’s most valued and trusted search experience for users, advertisers and developers…” Undermining its own business by outsourcing search ads to its leading competitor will weaken Yahoo!s ability to be a “starting point” for both users and advertisers. Permitting Google to operate a portion of its leading competitor’s business would be harmful to online diversity as well. Having Microsoft acquire Yahoo! also raise serious competitive concerns, although they require thoughtful examination in a post `Google now owns DoubleClick’ environment.

Google Opens its Network to 3rd Party Ad Servers, but Fails to Candidly Address the Privacy Issues

Google announced Tuesday that it [our emphasis] “is accepting third-party advertising tags on the Google content network in North America. This will empower advertisers to work with approved third parties to serve and track display ads, including rich media ads, across the Google content network through AdWords, giving them more options, flexibility and control over their campaigns.” Among the companies it lists that can track us through the Google network includes its own DoubleClick, as well as Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, Pointroll, Unicast, Dynamic Logic, and Interpolls.

Google has created a three-part video series on YouTube to “explain” how ad serving works. But like so much of Google’s privacy PR, it doesn’t really explain what the goals are of its expanded ad service. It also attempts to minimize the very real privacy concerns. Google uses its online ad industry Orwellian-like Doublespeak to suggest that the profiling and targeting of users is “enhancing their web experience.” Google could have included in its YouTube script what it is telling prospective YouTube ad sales persons: “that Google technology enables the world’s biggest advertisers to enjoy immediate and accountable communication with the consumer…to drive revenue… to top-tier brand advertisers and agencies…[via]… a next-generation advertising platform.” It could have said that its expanded online ad platform was designed, as its job announcement for a New York-based “Google Financial Services Account Executive” states, to help “the biggest financial services companies in the world. This includes investment, credit card, tax, banking and insurance companies.” Or as it explains in its “Google entertainment account executive” job announcement, “you’ll help to provide integrated, cross-platform advertising solutions for media and entertainment clients including TV, movie, gaming, music and web publishing companies.”

Google’s blog announcement for the opening up of its network to 3rd party ad servers, and its three-part series, could have detailed the range of data being collected and tracked by its DoubleClick and now other companies. That would include DoubleClick’s “Rich Media’s Audience Interaction Metrics package,” which “lets you analyze data on more than 100 unique interactions in every creative unit including multiple exit links, counters, timers and video metrics.” Or Eyeblaster’s “advanced …powerful tracking and optimization capabilities” that examine “unique viewer behavior– why look at impressions and clicks when you can look at the behavior of individual customers.” Or Unicast’s “User Engagement Index (UEI), that measures a user’s interaction with a rich media ad and provides a score made up of key engagement metrics.” Or what its now 3rd party approved from Eyewonder collects, such as “track all video interactions, rich media interactions, brand interactions and time, and …Custom tracking… to also measure metrics critical to your specific campaign.”

Google really requires both a privacy and online marketing ombudsman, to say the least. They have a very hard time being straight-forward about what information about us is being collected, how it’s really used, etc. Perhaps independent observers and consumer advocates whose mission is to help the company be more honest with itself, its employees, and its users would help. Meanwhile, we will just have to help regulators, policymakers, and the public better understand what Google isn’t really telling us.

PS: This announcement also has implications for mobile privacy. We think this quote from Mobile Marketer is very telling (hey, Google. Put him on your GoogTube channel!): “As mobile advertising evolves and matures, advertisers will demand consistent, in-depth analytics and immersive consumer engagement frameworks,” Mr. Rahav said [Amit Rahav, VP, Marketing, Eyeblaster]. “…To be able to retain client confidence and quality of user experience, Google defined a process for certifying trusted partners like Eyeblaster and other companies. Defining such rules of engagement creates the win-win ecosystem that helped scale Web advertising and stands to do the same for the mobile world.”

PPS: Perhaps Google should have addressed this, from its new 3rd Party approved partner Interpolls: “Interpolls is the only rich media company providing a complete end-to-end suite of integrated marketing solutions. In addition to rich media advertising, Interpolls provides clients with interactive promotions, live on-air voting, site polling, online sweepstakes and more. All of Interpolls services can be integrated into its proprietary platform, offering customers tremendous convenience while maximizing reach, awareness and results. “Expanding our distribution network to include the Google content network was a critical piece needed to provide our clients with the industry’s largest rich media distribution to reach their customers and prospects without limitations,” said Peter Kim, CEO and president, Interpolls. “The agreement opens the door for our clients to increase their distribution through the Google content network, and provides Google publishers and advertisers access to our innovative rich media advertising and widget solutions.”

PPPS (and we promise this is the last one!). Google also announced that several research firms were now allowed to work with its network and, we assume, help “measure performance” of Internet ads. They include Dynamic Logic, IAG Research, InsightExpress, and FactorTG. For example, IAG (now owned by Nielsen) says it “is the only panel-based measurement service that provides continuous evaluation of Internet ad performance and a direct comparison to TV ad effectiveness.” In another words, to help grow Google’s ad business it has, understandably, opened up its service to the network of tracking, analysis, and interactive media delivery services which comprise the world of marketing. But, we believe, Google should have explained all this clearly to users, and not–in our view–gloss over what this all means.

Microsoft pitches interactive ad and branding “integrated campaigns… that don’t necessarily feel like campaigns”

Microsoft is holding its annual meeting with advertisers, to show off what it can do. We will have more to say about it, but for now ponder this from Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s President, Entertainment and Devices Division:

“We think there are screens and areas beyond the browser for people to reach. We think you can reach them, whether it’s on a PC, on a TV, or on mobile devices. We think there are integrated campaigns that can be built, that don’t necessarily feel like campaigns, and that don’t necessarily feel like advertising, in a world in which people want to be entertained.”

The Shopping Cart Tells You What To Buy–and knows if you did!

Just when consumers tighten their wallets and purses, a new system emerges that will use data collected from us to target us while we shop in grocery stores. Here’s an excerpt from MediaCart’s pitch to advertisers:
“With MediaCart, consumer product brand marketers can deliver full-motion video advertising to shoppers as they approach various product locations in the store – whether walking down an aisle, approaching an end cap or standing at the checkout.

Direct One-to-One Ad Targeting. By collecting shoppers’ preferences through loyalty card information, prior shopping history, geographic locations and shopping times, advertisers are able to channel valuable communications to individual shoppers and deliver a powerful visual message right at the point of purchase.

Tracking Your Advertising Investment. The MediaCart® system tracks each cart’s location, dwell time, and shoppers’ purchases. This information will give valuable feedback on shoppers’ responses to alternative ads, offers, displays or message frequency. Advertisers are able to measure the true impact, quickly determine what is most effective, and adjust advertising messages and promotional offers as quickly as sending an email.”

Microsoft, by the way, is working with them. Be sure to see the picture of the cart on the press release.

Google Searches for “Federal/Intelligence Community Account Manager”

We organize the world’s information for the intelligence community, perhaps, should be one of its new mottos. Excerpt from Google job announcement for a position based in Washington, DC:

“…In this position, you will generate and close sales of the Google Search Appliance and Google Geospatial products among Intelligence community accounts. The main duties of this position include making cold calls on new prospects and following up on marketing and sales leads. You will be delivering quarterly quotas and building an existing region into a more fruitful territory. Most importantly, you will be developing business strategy to capture long term programs and opportunities.”

Hey!, AOL Privacy Penguins. Watch how Advertising.Com’s Promotes its “Holy Grail” for Targeted Online Advertising has a rich media demonstration showing how marketers can discover the “Holy Grail” for effective targeted online advertising. Take a look.

Google Health and other Medical Information Portability Products: Beware of Data Tracking, Interactive Marketing & Privacy Concerns

Consumers should have immediate access to their health records, a mouseclick and password away. But should the price we pay be tied to allowing health data storage providers collect information about our medical concerns and interests, so they can sell ads to pharmaceutical and health-related companies? We think there are some areas, such as health, where online advertising should not tread. Storage and access should not be linked to targeted personalized digital marketing. Google is in the process of building its health advertising business. In the U.K. and the U.S., for example, they are hiring executives to operate what it calls its “Consumer Products and Health Care marketplace.” Here’s an excerpt from the employment announcement:

The role: Industry Manager, Consumer Products and Health Care – London

As a Google Consumer Products and Health Care Industry Manager, you’ll be working with those who provide advertising solutions for companies that produce and sell consumables and health care products/services. This job is a mix of finding and managing new and existing business customer relationships. Working closely with the Industry Head to develop Google’s Consumer Products and Health Care marketplace, you’ll combine a passion for the industry with strong presentation and communication skills. You’ll own the relationships with clients and agencies, targeting, educating and developing new clients to grow the business in unpenetrated territory. This means you have excellent client-servicing and relationship skills along with the entrepreneurial drive to approach and persuade new and existing customers with large, multi-faceted propositions.


  • Target new customers and develop strong relationships with clients and marketing services agencies.
  • Analyse data, trends and client performance, develop solid strategic sales plans, and prepare and conduct strategic pitches and sales presentations.
  • Collaborate and consult with major customers with the goal of extending relationships, increasing your client and agency base and optimising their advertising expenditures.
  • Develop case studies of successful campaigns in order to share insights with customers and to serve as an evangelist at targeted events and conferences.
  • Champion new product releases, internally and externally…”

There are serious questions which must be addressed about the implications not only to our health privacy, but the impact on our behaviors from medical-related interactive marketing. It’s an area we will return to soon.