CDD Asks Facebook to Address Digital Marketing & Data Mining in Principles–including for outside developers

We have significant questions about the proposed Principles and Statement and how they will affect individual privacy.  CDD has submitted comments.  Here’s an excerpt:  “Ultimately, users must have full knowledge of and control over any and all user data collected by Facebook or by any third party using Facebook’s platform. Facebook must change its Principles and Statement to give users this knowledge and control. 

We urge Facebook to use this wording:

2. Ownership and Control of Information

People own their information. They have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. As part of user control of their data, every Facebook user has the right to know and fully control if and how data is collected from them, especially if the data is to be used in advertising. Facebook will be transparent in how it collects and analyzes data for advertising, including profiling and targeting of users. Facebook also will detail to users what particular data collecting and mining will be done for advertising purposes. Facebook will ensure that every company that works with it, via third-party applications or otherwise, also details to users if their data is collected or mined, how this data will be collected or mined and for what the data that is collected or mined will be used. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service…

Users need to know how third-party developers use the data accessed or collected, including how the data is used for advertising and marketing. For example, if games and widgets and other third-party applications base their business model on capturing user data for lead generation, the users must be clearly told the details of this data capture and lead generation, and users must give their explicit approval first.  Users have the right to control third-party use, access to, collection or sharing of user data, and Facebook needs to make this clear in its Principles.”

Facebook Connect: “über-targeting” for marketers [Annals of Social Media Marketing]

excerpt from online marketing blog [our bold]:

The Benefits of Facebook Connect

For marketers:

First, it facilitates getting mentioned in Facebook users’s news feeds, which has been the holy grail for marketers because it raises awareness of your business and delivers an implied endorsement.

Second, it provides a treasure trove of user data, allowing über-targeting. You can literally customize the content of your page based on the visitor’s Facebook data, such as his age, gender, location, likes, dislikes, relationship status, even networks, groups, and pages he’s joined – or “fanned.” As a simple example, if you know a visitor is a fan of the band U2, you can highlight your U2-theme stationery, T-shirts, dog bones.

Marketers Have Growing “Obsession” with Behavioral Targeting via Search Engines [Annals of Behavioral Targeting]

excerpt:  “The official version of the SEMPO [Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization] report was released today and…shows “overwhelming interest” in newly developed behavioral targeting opportunities, with three-quarters of advertisers claiming they would pay bid more for clicks targeted to in-market consumers.  The … “The State of Search Engine Marketing 2008″ shows  behavioral targeting has moved demographic targeting down on the priority list….this year, advertisers on average would pay 10 percent more for both demographic targeting and daypart targeting; they would pay 13 percent more for behavioral targeting. Behavioral-based search retargeting was unchanged in terms of spending. Two in five advertisers said they are not currently targeting or retargeting searchers but plan to in the next 12 months…Another 44 percent said they were targeting searchers either through an ad network, a portal or consumers who had previously visited their site.

As reported last week, North American spending on SEM for 2008 will total over $13.4 billion.”

source:  “Search Report Shows Obsession with Behavioral Targeting.”  John Gafney.  Econsultancy.  March 20, 2009.


Google and WPP Fund Neuromarketing Research for Digital Ads: Ethical Issues and the Need for Policymaker Scrutiny [with an update on the grants!]

The Wall Street Journal and other publications report that Google and ad giant WPP will announce today the $4.6 million grants it will award for academic research designed to “improve understanding and practices in online marketing, and to better understand the relationship between online and offline media.” Among the research efforts given funds are projects that will “analyze internet users’ surfing habits to determine their thinking styles, such as whether they are most influenced by verbal or visual messages or if they are more holistic or analytical, and how to tailor ads accordingly” and an “analysis into how online ads effect blood flow to different areas of the brain. This research would seek to show the role that emotions play in decision making.”   Academics from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard will receive funds, among others. (And for those of us concerned about the role online advertising and data collection is playing in China–and impacts human rights and environmental sustainability–one of the new grants will fund “how Chinese web users respond to different online-ad formats, such as display and search ads”).

As we will tell the European Commission at the end of the month, at a workshop they have organized to discuss interactive advertising and consumer protection, the evolving role of neuromarketing with online advertising raises a number of troubling concerns–and should trigger a serious policy review.   We have not yet seen a final list of the grantees.  But Google should be funding independent research that will honestly explore the impact and ethics of online marketing.  They should be ensuring that the ethical issues of online marketing–such as the concerns raised by their new behavioural profiling and targeting system–receive a honest scholarly review.

The growing controversy over the role pharmaceutical companies are playing with scholarly research on drugs, we think, has implications here.  We believe all the academic institutions receiving these grants must vet them to ensure they truly address the real impact online ad techniques have on individuals and society.

Update:  Google & WPP made the academic research announcement–eleven grants awarded.  Here are some to ponder–and raise questions:

*  “Targeting Ads to Match Individual Cognitive Styles: A Market Test”; Glen Urban, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management;

*  “How do consumers determine what is relevant? A psychometric and neuroscientific study of online search and advertising effectiveness”; Antoine Bechara, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity Institute, University of Southern California and Martin Reimann, Fellow, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity, University of Southern California;

*“Unpuzzling the Synergy of Display and Search Advertising:Insights from Data Mining of Chinese Internet Users”; Hairong Li, Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, Michigan State University and Shuguang Zhao, Media Survey Lab, Tsinghua University;

*”Are Brand Attitudes Contagious? Consumer Response to Organic Search Trends”; Donna L. Hoffman, Professor, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside and Thomas P. Novak, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside;

*“Marketing on the Map: Visual Search and Consumer Decision Making”; Nicolas Lurie, Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Management and Sam Ransbotham, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Carroll School of Management, Boston College.

“…distinctions between government services and political campaigning are being blurred as politicians use Internet technology”–National Journal

excerpts:  In general, federal laws bar the use of government assets for political campaigning. But the much-lawyered distinctions between government services and political campaigning are being blurred as politicians use Internet technology to extend their advocacy…White House officials declined to be interviewed on the rules governing the separation of campaign and state data.

“There are indications that the administration wants to revise some of these laws, particularly with respect to the Internet, and we’re waiting to see if we can play a role,” said Peter Greenberger, a former regional campaign manager for Al Gore’s presidential bid who now heads Google’s Elections and Issues Advocacy team. “The real question that people are trying to answer is what can the White House do now that they’re the White House as opposed to a [political] campaign.”

Finding that line will mean answering questions about rules that bar the use of government assets for political campaigning, contracting rules that limit the ability of officials to hire one company rather than another and laws that bar government officials from favoring contractors, said Google officials. Also, added Greenberger, “There would be issues providing some services to an elected official that is not provided to somebody else,” such as a political opponent. But, he added, “in some cases, you know, incumbency is a powerful thing.”

source:  Google Stands To Gain From Capital Connections.  Neil Munro.  National Journal.  March 17, 2009.

Google Expands User Tracking/Profiling via Behavioral Targeting [Annals of “Interested-Based” Micro Persuasion]

Here’s an excerpt from what Google is telling its AdSense clients:

Advertisers spend more money on campaigns that reach the right audience; helping them do that should drive more revenue to your websites. This week we’re announcing plans to provide interest-based advertising across AdSense publisher sites…With this enhancement they’ll also be able to reach users based on their previous interactions with them, such as visits to the advertiser website, as well as reach users on the basis of their interests (such as “sports enthusiasts” or “travel enthusiasts”)…To develop interest categories, we’ll recognize the types of webpages users visit across the AdSense network. As an example, if they visit a number of sports pages, we’ll add them to the “sports enthusiast” interest category.

Google’s Federal Sales Division– “in position to capture Uncle Sam’s spending”

John Letzing of Marketwatch wrote an interesting story last week on Google’s DC-based federal sales division.  Microsoft and many others have long sold technology related products to government.  But as consumer database and online advertising companies, including Google, seek to secure federal contracts, what goes on should be transparent to the public.  Here’s a few excerpts from Mr. Letzing’s fine article, which we urge you to read in its entirety:

“…Google is increasingly well positioned to tap at least one big spender to be found amid the economic malaise: the federal government…Some $20 billion in additional, wide-ranging federal spending is expected to go into technology as part of the recently-passed stimulus package…while the proposed 2010 budget should include at least three times as much for tech-related projects…Google, which in December leased 15,000 square feet of office space for a Washington-area outpost, pitches “search appliances” to agencies, or pieces of hardware installed within a network to facilitate quick access to internal documents and databases…Google has at least one key supporter of [Google] Apps in the new administration. On Thursday, President Obama named Vivek Kundra as the government’s chief information officer. In his former capacity as the District of Columbia’s chief technology officer, Kundra switched its public agencies to Google Apps from Microsoft…There may be even more evidence of Google’s federal bounty, if sales to classified intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency were made public.”

Google in position to capture Uncle Sam’s spending:  Federal agencies testing Google tools; a key fan is Obama’s new tech hire.  John Letzing.  Marketwatch.  March 6, 2009

Google Does Behavioral Targeting. Why Is It Trying to Fool Users & PolicyMakers By Claiming it’s “Interest-Based” Advertising? [Annals of Commercial Surveillance]

Google has finally fully entered the behavioral targeting business, although they are trying to disguise it through an Orwellian change of language by calling it “interest-based” advertising. The world’s largest and most dominant online ad system is expanding its data collection and targeting activities whenever we search, view videos or read blogs.  This isn’t really about, as Google’s blog suggests, “more interesting” ads for consumers. It’s about a further expansion of Google’s already considerable data-mining and interactive marketing and data-tracking/targeting arsenal, which now also includes using neuroscience for its YouTube ads.  Google is further endorsing a global culture with data collection, profiling and targeting at its core.  No matter how Google attempts to frame it as “better for you ads,” digital advertising is designed to influence our behaviors in non-transparent ways.

This announcement, which was done so Google can better incorporate all the behavioral targeting technologies it acquired when it bought online ad targeting giant DoubleClick, is also designed to help head-off the enactment of privacy laws in the US and EU (Google isn’t alone here.  Microsoft, Yahoo and others are in a global race in attempt to preserve the data collection status quo under the cover of industry self-regulation).  Giving consumers access to their (incomplete and likely to constantly be revised with even more targeting categories) profile has to be viewed with such a perspective–it serves as a smokescreen so Google can broaden its data collection and targeting (and become even more dominant in the global online ad business).  Instead of having the default be no data collection without prior expressed informed consent, Google has created the system as an flawed opt-out.  Missing from what users should know and control in their profile are the applications online marketers use to develop the ad so it can more effectively target (and collect data), including: neuromarketing, viral videos, rich immersive media, social networks, online product placement, etc.

Yesterday, Google should have called on Congress, the EU and other governments to enact meaningful consumer privacy safeguards.  While it is entirely to be expected that as the world’s largest online ad company Google would fully embrace behavioral targeting,  it’s also unfortunate.  Eventually–and we hope soon–responsible shareholders, such as socially conscious investment funds, and global regulators will hold Google–and other online marketers–more accountable to the public.

But stay tuned for the next entry, on what Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have done to evade privacy safeguards for behavioural targeting in the UK!

Big Brands Tracking Your `Tweets’: Online Marketing Tool Can Help Comcast & Others ID “brand allies and foes” [ Annals of Web Analytics]

excerpt:  Omniture SiteCatalyst now integrates with Twitter to let online marketers monitor and measure tweets. The feature lets marketers import data from Twitter feeds… It tracks preset keywords to monitor who is talking about their brand.

The SiteCatalyst feature also helps identify brand advocates and cynics…

At a recent Omniture Summit, the telecom firm Comcast talked about being able to identify brand allies and foes, according to Matt Langie, senior director of product marketing, Omniture. …

According to Forrester, nearly 5 million people use Twitter, where users send frequent, short updates to followers. Many of the followers look to tie themselves to the brand by joining in on the conversation.

The SiteCatalyst integration with Twitter enables marketers to take advantage of a real-time alert feature to send emails and SMS messages to mobile devices based on pre-determined criteria, such as a spike in mentions of brand-related terms…”

Omniture SiteCatalyst Integrates With Twitter.  Laurie Sullivan.  Online Media Daily.  March 6, 2009