Facebook researching “sentiment” engine: “looking to figure out if people are having a good day or bad day”

Via scobleizer.com [excerpt from interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.  My bold]:
Facebook is, he told me, studying “sentiment” behavior. It hasn’t yet used that research in its public service yet, but is looking to figure out if people are having a good day or bad day. He said that already his teams are able to sense when nasty news, like stock prices are headed down, is underway. He also told me that the sentiment engine notices a lot of “going out” kinds of messages on Friday afternoon and then notices a lot of “hungover” messages on Saturday morning. He’s not sure where that research will lead. We talked about how sentiment analysis might lead to a new kind of news display in Facebook. Knowing whether a story is positive or negative would let Facebook pick a good selection of both kinds of news, or maybe even let you choose whether you want to see only “happy” news.” 

source: Zuckerberg: Facebook’s “intense” year.  scobleizer.com

Bravo to Google for Supporting M-Lab. But How About a Tool That Also Exposes All Data Collection?

I applaud Google for supporting an academic initiative announced today that provides tools and other services to users so they can measure and test their broadband connection. These tools and effort will permit users to have greater insight into how their ISPs are shaping network traffic–it’s part of the important campaign to ensure network neutrality.  Google has been a leader in this area, and we commend them.

But Google should now use its resources to create a public tool for privacy, so that everyone can be informed about what kind of data is being collected from them–and who is collecting it.  That would mean identifying, for example, what Google collects for itself, for DoubleClick, YouTube, Feedburner and other services.  Of course, the tool would help consumers/citizens know about all data collection, not just via Google.  Beyond a new tool, Google should also support the passage of national privacy protection laws.  Google needs to also be a serious policy leader on privacy.   An open and unfettered connection is just one of the conditions global users require to ensure a democratic online medium.  So is meaningful privacy.

Don Graham of Washington Post now on Facebook board of directors

We just saw the press release from Facebook announcing that Donald Graham, the chairman and CEO of the Washington Post company joined its board this month.  While it makes perfect business sense for the Post and Facebook to co-mingle, it’s bad for journalism.  Facebook’s work raises a host of policy issues–including privacy and consumer protection for online marketing–which requires a watchdoging independent press.  Mr. Graham’s new role sends the wrong signal to the already under stress reporters and editors who work for him.  We need tough investigative report on the digital marketplace–not some mutual-old-media-back-scratching-new-media relationship.  Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing Mr. Graham’s new role:

“Don Graham understands how to build and manage an organization for the long term,” explained Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. “He has made The Washington Post Company one of the most valued and respected education and media companies while making society more open and understanding. What I most admire about Don is his commitment to build around this purpose – and not just a business. His decision to join our board means that Facebook will benefit from this insight and experience.”

“Facebook has completely transformed how people interact by providing a compelling forum where millions and millions of people can connect and share,” said Graham. “Mark’s sense of what Facebook can do is quite remarkable.”

Annals of Behavioral Targeting: New product designed to “to prompt a profitable response for every user”

Perfect timing for International Privacy Day.  A new behavioral targeting product that will soon be released.  Here’s an excerpt from the press release:  “TARGUSinfo, the leading provider of On-Demand Insight(SM) about prospects and customers, plans to unveil AdAdvisor(SM) services…a new predictive-targeting solution leveraging the industry’s largest repository of verified offline lifestyle and demographic information. “The power of AdAdvisor is that it enables ad networks, publishers and advertisers to serve the ad most likely to prompt a profitable response for every user based on the most predictive offline consumer information,”…When an ad network sees a user on its’ publisher network, AdAdvisor cookies relay precisely which segment they fall within and enables ad networks and publishers to serve the most relevant advertisement — from the moment they first encounter users.”…Extensive Coverage – More than 50 million unique cookies, each embedded with highly predictive data attributes.”

and from Targusinfo’s site:  “Each AdAdvisor cookie contains verified, household-level demographics, interests and purchase behaviors. Our cookies are then deployed to score Internet users according to their unique segment — enabling you to serve the ad most likely to trigger a response…

“We deliver unprecedented predictive power. Our cookie-based services deliver rich, offline consumer information to boost existing behavioral-targeting methods.”

The company’s privacy policy states that “AdAdvisor services place a cookie containing non-personally identifiable information on a user’s computer…AdAdvisor cookies enable Web sites using the Services to recognize users when they return to those Web sites…The cookies used by the Services do not contain any personally identifiable information. Instead, the cookie contains anonymous, non-personally identifiable categories of information which are derived as a result of a user’s registration through one of our registration partners.”

It’s not personally identifiable but, in their own words, “recognize users” when they return to sites!  It’s anonymous, but includes user “registration” data via third parties! This is another example of why the FTC and the Congress has to reform privacy safeguards.  The antiquated concept of what is considered personally identifiable has to brought into the 21st Century and the Obama Administration era.

International Privacy Day: Privacy Policy Also Means Protecting Consumers [Think Financial Products/Mortgages, Health Products, the Marketing of Obesity-linked Foods, etc]

My group the Center for Digital Democracy joins with our colleagues throughout the world to acknowledge International Privacy Day.  The day is to help mark what is a growing debate about the role that data collection on citizens and consumers plays in our lives.  Both governments and many corporations are harvesting a tremendous amount of information on us, to monitor our activities and influence our behavior.

But protecting our privacy is more than just data protection and the Big Brother/Sister-like surveillance system now available.  It’s also about linking the use of data collection to the vast interactive marketing apparatus which is designed to help direct our thinking about products, brands, and ideas (including political leaders).  Protecting privacy is just one part of the problem; the other half relates to ensuring protection for consumers.  Interactive marketing has created a range of unfair, deceptive and potentially harmful practices across a broad range of product categories.  These practices are fueled by the data collection, analysis and targeting system which has been put in place.  So here’s to those who care about privacy; to those who also care about the public welfare; and to the public whose future will be affected by the outcomes of these debates and policies.

Digital Marketing of Toys to Children Reflects Seamless Merging of Online & Online, inc. Play

Here’s a telling comment via a senior Disney executive:

“Disney says it sees online as a vital part of its strategy to turn its very well-known brand name into greater market share by making itself more relevant than ever to both children and parents…”That’s why [says Edward Catchpole, senior European VP for toys, Disney] all the sites we operate for our brands are not extensions, they’re seamless integrations, part of owning that toy, part of the play pattern. A young girl will run around pretending to be a fairy, then play with a toy and then go online and immerse themselves in a virtual world at one of our communities, like Pixie Hollow or Club Penguin. We also have a social network based around [Disney/Pixar movie] Cars in the US, which tends to be used more by boys,” Catchpole adds.”

source:  Vertical Focus: Toy retailing.  Sean Hargrave.  New Media Age [UK].  November 27, 2008 [sub required]

Is the White House Collecting Data on the Public via YouTube?

According to CNET, the White House has again changed its privacy policy regarding persistent cookies and online videos.  Now all video providers, it appears–not just YouTube–has received a formal exemption of the federal prohibition on persistent cookies.

But beyond the cookie issue–which shouldn’t be placed at all when the public watches a government video–are questions regarding statistical and tracking data.  Is Google/YouTube providing the White House with any analytics and user information [such as through YouTube Insight]?  For example, YouTube allows “brand channels” to know “the gender and age” of viewers; “identify the ways…users find your videos;” “Hot spots viewing information, which identifies viewing trends  for each moment in a video.” YouTube also permits brand channel video providers to track users via a “one 1px by 1px third-party tracking tag, which lets the channel owners use view-through tracking to better understand a user’s behavior after the user leaves the channel page.”

We assume the White House will answer such questions (such as whether they receive brand channel-like services), respond favorably to the FOIA request from Chris Soghoian, and ensure that the site reflects the highest possible consumer privacy standards.

Google’s “Biometric” Research: Ads on YouTube Give “Halo Effect” to Brands

Google suited up people with special biometric monitoring equipment to test how well YouTube ads affect them.  According to New Media Age [excerpt]: “YouTube users are 1.5 times more attentive and engaged in advertising than TV viewers, according to research conducted in partnership with General Motors Europe, Motorola, media agency MindShare and the Online Testing Exchange (OTX).  The research used eye tracking and biometric data to reveal the brand impact of advertising on YouTube. It found recall and attribution for an ad viewed was up to 14% higher than watching the same ad on TV. Viewing a silent ad on YouTube in addition to a normal TV ad also improved ad recall and attribution.

Ads on YouTube can impact the perceptions of elusive audiences like young men and infrequent TV viewers. They also have a halo effect and increase brand perceptions such as innovative, cool, dynamic and unconventional.”

Google measured such metrics as heart rate, physical movement, respiration rate, and skin conductance.

NMA: Ads on YouTube have higher impact than on TV.  Danielle Long.  NMA. December 18, 2008 [sub. required]

Annals of Mobile Marketing: Acxiom

The database marketing firm Acxiom’s mobile marketing product promises marketers they will be able to deliver [excerpt]  “mobile content to the right user based on time, context, location, and user preferences–all in real-time…

Targeting–one to one messaging that can leverage multiple data sources, including: location, customer data, Acxiom’s world-class data and behavioral analytics.
source:  Acxiom/Mobile Marketing.

Commercial Domestic Surveillance: The new White House Website, YouTube & Privacy

In a post for CNET yesterday, privacy expert Chris Soghoian revealed that President Obama’s White House “has quietly exempted YouTube from strict rules relating to the use of cookies on federal agency Web sites.”   Federal rules prohibit the use of what are called “persistent cookies,” that can track an online users activities and behavior.  Soghoian cites the new White House privacy policy that states, “A waiver has been issued by the White House Counsel’s office to allow for the use of this persistent cookie.”  Google’s YouTube received this exemption, notes the White House site, “to help maintain the integrity of video statistics.”

Now the White House has made a quick change, according to a post written today by Soghoian.  “Obama’s web team rolled out a technical fix that severely limits YouTube’s ability to track most visitors to the White House website,” he writes. “By late Thursday evening, each embedded YouTube video had been replaced with an image of a video player, which a user must click on before the real YouTube player will be loaded. The result of this change is that YouTube is now only able to use cookies to track users who click on the “play” button on an embedded YouTube video — the majority of people who scroll through a page without clicking play will not be tracked.”  But he also describes the new approach as a “band-aid. Those users who do click the play button will be secretly tracked as they navigate the White House website — and if those users have visited YouTube or any other Google run website in the past, the fact that they watched an Obama video will be added to the existing massive pile of data the company has compiled on each web surfer.”

But for those White House web site visitors who do click on the YouTube videos, they will likely become part of the data analysis which could be generated via Google’s YouTube Insight.  That’s a video analytics tool providing “detailed statistics” on video use.  One Google executive offered a commercial example of the tools’ features: “YouTube’s geographical insights could help marketers determine ad effectiveness and campaign optimization. For instance, he said, different versions of a movie trailer might perform better in different regions.”  Other YouTube analytical data available  includes a “demographics tab that displays view count information broken down by age group (such as ages 18-24), gender, or a combination of the two, to help you get a better understanding of the makeup of your YouTube audience. We show you general information about your viewers in anonymous and aggregate form, based on the birth date and gender information that users share with us when they create YouTube accounts.”  (Google says “individual users can’t be personally identified.”  But the company has embraced a narrow definition of what privacy protections users should expect, the so-called APEC standard).

Persistent cookies, explains U.S. Military Academy computer science professor Greg Conti, “can exist for many years…repeatedly identifying the user to the issuing web site…persistent cookies are specifically designed to uniquely identify users on return visits to web sites…In terms of anonymity, this is bad.  Advertisers have found innovative ways to exploit cookies to track users as they visit web sites that contain ads or other content.”  [source is Professor Conti’s terrific book, Googling Security:  How Much Does Google Know About You?  Addison-Wesley.  2009.  Page 73]

Of course, Google/YouTube’s cookie placed via a White House visit sets the stage for the company to further track and analyze citizens/ users.  Given YouTube’s ever-growing expansion as a commercial video advertising service, its ability to harness the White House data cookie will undoubtedly prove useful for the company.

The revised White House privacy policy does offer users a way to view the videos “without the use of persistent cookies” through the extra step of clicking the “link to download the video file… provided just below the video.” But we think opt-out is the incorrect approach.

The Obama White House should set the standard for protecting privacy in the digital era.  They should maintain the prohibition on persistent tracking cookies.  Nor should they permit any commercial operator, including Google’s YouTube, to engage in federally-sanctioned data collection.  We know the new Obama Administration has many important issues to address.  But they also need to develop a sophisticated critique of the online advertising industry, ensuring privacy and consumer protection.  The Obama Administration should be able to articulate a balanced perspective– that can take advantage and foster the democratic potential of digital media, while also meaningfully addressing the harms.