Behavioral Targeting and Political Campaigns: The tip of the Online Targeting Iceberg

We hope readers will review the excellent articles on behavioral targeting and the election that appear in Businessweek [“The Candidates are Monitoring Your Mouse”] and The Washington Post [“Candidates’Websites Get to Know the Voters”].

Most observers understand that there are serious privacy issues involved when anyone–be it a marketer and (especially) a politician engages in data collection and micro-targeting online without prior consumer/citizen consent. While a few might express sentiments of cynicism–claiming that because some lawmakers may use these techniques it’s unlikely they will support safeguards–the opposite is true. Responsible lawmakers will recognize that in a digital democracy, protecting everyone’s privacy is crucial. Just as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which I helped spearhead, received strong bi-partisan support (Sen. John McCain was a co-sponsor, along with Rep. Ed Markey, for example), so will new rules which protect everyone online. Responsible parties will support meaningful safeguards–or be on the wrong side of much consumer ire.

PS: NPR has a fascinating and a very revealing video interview on this topic with Michael Bassik, Vice President for Interactive Marketing at MSHC Partners. MSHC represents the Democratic National Committee,, and the Center for American Progress, among many others. Here’s an especially informative excerpt [my transcription]:

“…in the past we were able to determine whether an advertisement was delivered, and we call those advertising impressions; we were able to determine how many people clicked on an ad, which is called the click-thru rate, and we could figure out from there the cost-per-click. That was about the extent of the reporting we had in the past. But now in 2008 we have tremendous deep reporting capabilities. So I can tell you, for example, who saw a John McCain banner ad on which site. And which placement on that site and which size the ad was. I can tell you how long that ad was on the page for before someone click on it. I can tell you if they clicked on it whether they donated, whether they signed –up. But also tell you whether someone saw that ad, but did not click on it. But two weeks later went to John McCain’s website on their own and made a donation. We can tie that donation back to the fact that they saw an ad on three weeks prior in the political section in the 728 by 90 leaderboard size. I used McCain as an example, but of course all the candidates, including our Democratic and progressive candidates, are doing that.”

Google/Verizon Deal: will increase “Google’s stranglehold on the mobile search market”

That quote in the headline comes from a new analyst note written by ad agency Avenue A/Razorfish. It explains [our emphasis] that: “[T]he deal will most certainly increase Google’s stranglehold on the mobile search market, and will be another blow to Yahoo and Microsoft, who are rapidly losing browser search share as well. Google currently owns 61% of the mobile search market, and already has deals in place with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. A deal with Verizon would give the search engine access to the current no. 2 wireless provider – but soon to be no. 1 once Verizon’s acquisition of Alltel closes.”

Regulators need to examine this deal on both competition and privacy grounds. The current review of the Google/Yahoo combination underway by the Department of Justice would be remiss if it didn’t address the mobile marketing issues. After all, Yahoo! mobile is a significant part of that company’s ad serving business. We still want to know whether Google will also be serving up mobile ads on Yahoo! as part of its forthcoming alliance.
source: Issue No 112 | August 27, 2008. SMTrends. Ave A/Razorfish.

Google Behavioral Targeting Watch: Certifies Online Ad Targeter for its content network that “delivers unparalleled consumer insights”

Google’s growing number of “certified” third-party ad companies–many whom engage in behavioral targeting–which now operate over its “content Network” should raise questions from policymakers and privacy advocates around the world. Take Tumri, for example, which won such Google approval last month. Tumri is the “new player in the behavioral targeting space that promises seamless integration of highly targeted content with heightened consumer relevancy,” according to trade publication Clickz. Tumri says it combines “behavioral, contextual, geographic, demographic, and more” so advertisers can, for example, ensure that “the target audience take action rather than simply generating awareness…”

When it announced it had gained the Google seal of targeting approval last month, Tumri explained that [our emphasis]:

“We are excited to be included as one of the platforms certified on the Google content network,” said Calvin Lui, President & CEO of Tumri…Tumri’s participation in the Google content network combines the impact and effectiveness of today’s most dynamic and targeted ad delivery platform with Google’s broad reach. The combination of Tumri’s patent pending targeting and optimization platform with Google’s leading content network will deliver unmatched relevancy to consumers and performance for advertisers. As part of the certification, Tumri worked with Google to ensure that all Tumri ads meet Google’s policies, specifications, and performance requirements.

Attack of the AdPod People:

Tumri describes its service this way: “Dynamic and interactive by design, the Tumri AdPod enables publishers to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time, yielding greater consumer relevancy, stronger click through and conversion metrics, strengthened monetization and heightened user satisfaction.” They explain that:
“Across traditional web sites, social networks, and the incredible amount of user-generated content that users interact with daily, consumers’ unique needs and personalities are reflected in the content of the pages they visit, the context of their visits, and the aggregated behavior pattern they demonstrate online. Given the power of the Internet, marketers and content developers can reach consumers using measurable dialogs across all online channels – web sites, advertisements, email, widgets, instant messaging, and many more….”

They also discuss the company’s tools, including its “matching engine,” which enables it to “match in real-time users with commercial content…
We utilize information from site visits, geographical location, browser context, search behavior, ISP/bandwidth characteristics, time of day, and past interactions which then become input to our classifiers who work in collaboration to determine:

  • Who is this user?
  • What is this user about?
  • What are they doing right now?
  • What are they in the market for?
  • What are they most likely to respond to NOW?”

Bravo to Free Press, Public Knowledge, other Consumer/Public Interest Groups on Net Neutrality Decision at FCC

Terrific legal, advocacy and organizing work–bolstered by FCC public interest-focused Commissioners Copps and Adelstein–had led to an important decision by the Commission on the Comcast case. These groups deserve praise and support for their critical efforts.

It was almost ten years ago that I came upon a cable industry blueprint which reflected its determination to control how the Internet evolved. Much occurred since then, including important work by the Media Access Project and Consumer Federation of America to keep the pressure on the phone and cable companies. Our plan all along was to put enough pressure on via legal, regulatory and news media that the cable and phone industry couldn’t really implement its plans. Yesterday’s FCC decision marks, in a way, one coda for that effort. But we all know it will need to be ongoing.

One thought. It’s ironic that GOP Chairman Martin played such an important role here. It was, after all, Clinton FCC Chairman William Kennard who refused our call for an “open access” framework for broadband. Mr. Kennard went to work for the Carlyle Group buying media properties. Today he is also a major fundraiser/bundler for Senator Barack Obama’s president campaign. Public Citizen says Kennard has raised more than $500,000.

Privacy Issues for Interactive TV and Personalized Targeting Should Be on Congress Agenda

Deep packet inspection and other online marketing techniques are not the only privacy concerns with digital media. So are, in my opinion, the evolving world of more precisely targeted and viewer tracking television ads. Here’s an excerpt from today’s MediaDailyNews on advances in interactive television:

“… a leading developer has created an open standard that will enable advertisers and agencies to easily and seamlessly integrate any method they use to target TV viewers, and then have those ads served to specific dayparts, programming genres, geographic zones, or even individual households. The breakthrough…allows advertisers to utilize any source of data they use to define their consumer targets, and then have those ads served to any platform capable of delivering targeted TV advertising, including…broadband, as well as household-specific addressable television outlets…

…Visible World is disclosing deals with both Acxiom and Experian, two of the leading sources of data used by agencies to target consumers across media, but… the system will easily port data from virtually any source…and… is capable of serving TV ads to as “granular” a target as an advertiser can define…”

source: Addressable TV Ad Developer Hits Target, Creates Open Standard For Advertisers. Joe Mandese. MediaDailyNews. Aug 21, 2008.

Tivo’s “Watch” Service: The evolving TV tracking and ad targeting system

How the TV business tracks viewers/users will eventually be part of the privacy debate. So, for the record, here’s a service Tivo provides to the industry:

“TiVo’s Power||Watch(TM) ratings service provides advertisers access to second-by-second program and commercial ratings data, with demographic segmentations, for 20,000 households who have volunteered to take part in a “passive” consumer panel. The Power||Watch(TM) ratings service provides subscribers the ability to look at TV viewing broken down by standard household demographics including income, geography, ethnicity, number of children and tenure of TiVo subscriber, among others. TiVo can associate household data with the viewership data then produce program and commercial viewership reports by aggregate demographic and behavioral audience groups. All reports prepared by TiVo using this data are anonymous.

Subscribers to TiVo’s Stop||Watch(TM) ratings service and Power||Watch(TM) ratings service include: Omnicom Media Group, NBC Universal, CBS Corporation, The Interpublic Group, Starcom, Carat USA, MPMA, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Media IQ and Euro RSCG New York.”

source: TiVo Announces Latest Results of Its Stop||Watch(TM) Commercial, Program Rankings. PR Newsire. August 20, 2008

All Tracking, All Predicting, All Targeting: Insights into how consumers are behaviorally targeted via the China digital ad market

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. PinYou’s system will profile consumers based on multiple inputs, including demographics, psychographics, category interests, lifestyle and purchasing funnel. Through PinYou’s network of publishers, the ad will automatically appear whenever the target consumers visit the page. What Valueclick recently launched in the U.S “precision profiling” 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

Google/Yahoo deal raises competition and privacy concerns: the redacted SEC filing

The proposed deal where Yahoo turns over to Google a great deal of its search ad function is available via the SEC. Although it’s the redacted version, there’s enough detail to raise questions. Policymakers, consumer advocates, competitors, and the public should be concerned. The document underscores how competition has eroded in the online ad marketplace for search. The agreement first graph has this phrase [our italics]: “WHEREAS, Yahoo! desires to obtain the right to utilize Google’s monetization services in connection with certain web sites and Google desires to make these services available to Yahoo!.”

In other words, Yahoo! simply can’t make it on its own. Google gets to “conduct a review of each Prospective Yahoo! Partner Property” for the deal–which means Yahoo!’s relationships are now also Google’s. Google controls the ad copy–which Yahoo! can’t touch. Yahoo! becomes a mere licensee of Google services [“Google grants to Yahoo! a limited, nonexclusive and non-sublicensable license during the Term to access and use the Google Materials solely for the purpose of implementing and receiving the Services…”].

Beyond the deal’s threat to competition, there are privacy issues. Policymakers must ensure that we understand what data is being collected and shared by the two leading search firms. What information is to be obtained in what the agreement terms as a “client ID” [“Client ID” means a unique alphanumeric code or other designation or identifier that is provided to Yahoo! by Google to be used by Yahoo! as a Client ID in accordance with the Documentation…Yahoo! must assign a separate Client ID to each category of [*].”] The * indicates a redacted portion of the agreement.

We believe this deal will further undermine competition in a key online ad sector,  and only further strengthen Google. But beyond competition, consumers need to know how the deal will involve their data. Both Google and Yahoo should make it clear what data and analytics will be developed and shared.

Behavioral Targeting Lawsuit Illuminates How Data is Collected From You

Look for a moment at an excerpt from a legal tangle between behavioral targeting companies Valueclick and Tacoda (the latter now owned by Time Warner). Valueclick filed suit on July 15 claiming patent infringements, including for one entitled “Method and Apparatus for Determining Behavioral Profile of a User.” Read the “Abstract” and part of the “Summary of the Invention” for this patent and think about your privacy (and that this is based on 1998 technology!):“Abstract: Computer network method and apparatus provides targeting of appropriate audience based on psychographic or behavioral profiles of end users. The psychographic profile is formed by recording computer activity and viewing habits of the end user. Content of categories of interest and display format in each category are revealed by the psychographic profile, based on user viewing of agate information. Using the profile (with or without additional user demographics), advertisements are displayed to appropriately selected users. Based on regression analysis of recorded responses of a first set of users viewing the advertisements, the target user profile is refined. Viewing by and regression analysis of recorded responses of subsequent sets of users continually auto-target and customizes ads for the optimal end user audience.”

Summary Of The Invention: …Over time, the tracking and profiling member holds a history and/or pattern of user activity which in turn is interpreted as a users habits and/or preferences. To that end, a psychographic profile is inferred from the recorded activities in the tracking and profiling member. Further, the tracking and profiling member records presentation (formal) preferences of the users based on user viewing activity. Preferences with respect to color schemes, text size, shapes, and the like are recorded as part of the psychographic profile of a user…The tracking and profiling member also records demographics of each user. As a result, the data assembly is able to transmit advertisements for display to users based on psychographic and demographic profiles of the user to provide targeted marketing.”
source: Complaint for Patent Infringement: Jury Trial Demanded. Valueclick, Inc. v, Tacoda, Inc. Case No. CV08-04619 DSF. U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Western Division.

Google’s patent to target social media ads: monitoring online communities

Google has been assigned a patent which abstract says is: “[A] computer-implemented method for displaying advertisements to members of a network comprises identifying one or more communities of members, identifying one or more influencers in the one or more communities, and placing one or more advertisements at the profiles of one or more members in the identified one or more communities.” Google may be joining the rush to further monetize (and spy, as far as I’m concerned) on social network communities. Social media marketing is the latest boomlet in online advertising. Here’s an excerpt from the patent.  Btw, I don’t see the word privacy mentioned in the patent application! [my bold]:

As the Internet has become increasingly popular, online social networks are becoming an important and pervasive mechanism for communication, entertainment, and professional and social networking. Members of a network implicitly associate or explicitly link themselves with one or more members within the network based on factors such as common interests. Interaction and signaling between members either directly or through other members cause the formation of communities of common interests within the online social network. The members of such communities are connected by one or more common interests.

Factors such as member interactions, content on member profiles, dynamically changing size of the community, and the like establish a hierarchy within a community where certain members are more popular than others and, consequently, wield enhanced influence over other members in the community.


The present inventors recognized that blanket advertising across the network tends not to be cost-efficient to advertisers, since the members of the network tend not to be interested in the products and services being advertised unless the advertisements are relevant to the members’ interest. Presenting to advertisers a community of members sharing a common interest provides advertisers with an opportunity to present products and services of interest to the members of the network, thereby maximizing the return on the investment made to advertising.

The present inventors also recognized that advertising to members of an online social network based solely on the content of their profile lacks targeted generation of advertisements. Members of a community may have content on their profile in addition to the common interest of the community, such as personal information, etc. Relying solely on the content of the profile of a member of a community decreases the specificity of advertisements to the community since the presence of additional information distorts the signal from the content related to the common interests.

In one implementation, a computer-implemented method for displaying advertisements to members of a network is described. The method includes identifying one or more communities within a network, wherein the community can include a plurality of members of the network, identifying one or more influencers in the one or more communities, and placing one or more advertisements at the profiles of one or more members in the one or more communities…

The systems and techniques described here may provide one or more of the following advantages. First, a system can identify communities of common interests within an online social network. This may allow advertisers to target the communities based on the common interest of the community, as opposed to the content of individual profiles. Second, a system can identify members who belong to overlapping communities as a result of more than one common interest. By blending advertisements relevant to the interests of each of the overlapping communities, advertisers may target the members common to these communities. Third, a system can identify the influencers from among the members of a community. This may provide advertisers with the option of targeting either all members in the community or advertising only on the profile of the influencer, thereby targeting the entire community.

In addition, the system encourages members of communities in online social networks to enrich the content on their profiles. The presence of high quality content relevant to shared interests on a member’s profile increases the popularity of the member in the community and improves a member’s chances of being an influencer. An influencer may receive financial incentives from advertisers in exchange for permission to display advertisements on the member’s profile.