Behavioral Targeting System Tracks Users, Collects Data, and then Creates Ad Just for You!

So-called “smart ads” and personalized advertising is part of the data collection for digital behavioral advertising paradigm.  Here’s an excerpt from a Audience Science press release on its new approach:

AudienceScience (formerly Revenue Science) announced today the availability of Audience Relevant Messaging (ARM), a new dynamic targeting offering that enables advertisers to deliver personalized messages to consumers based on their individual interests and/or intent to purchase. ARM offers advertisers the potential for unparalleled ROI with dynamic display ad generation and results comparable to search performance providing the exact offer to motivate a prospect to purchase…ARM enables advertisers to target consumers who have abandoned their shopping cart with a message or offer pertaining specifically to their browsing behavior and the items in their cart, as well as search behavior, online and offline shopping history, demographics, geography, and more…With ARM AudienceScience can now easily pull the right creative for the right consumer at the right time and can also test creative and alter campaigns in real-time based on individual behavior and response.

source:  AudienceScience Audience Relevant Messaging (ARM) Delivers Messaging Tailored to Individual Characteristics and Behaviors.  Press release.  30 July 2009.

Microsoft/Yahoo: Regulators in U.S. and EU Must Ask–How will the Deal Really Protect Privacy, Serve Consumers & Promote Competition

The Center for Digital Democracy will ask regulators (in both the U.S. and EU) to closely– and skeptically– examine the Microsoft/Yahoo deal, including a thorough analysis of the proposed data collection, privacy and online ad-related business practices.  This agreement basically merges the Microsoft and Yahoo search platforms.  Instead of competing ad sales teams for “premium” search, Yahoo becomes the “exclusive” agent; the Bing search platform serves both MSN and Yahoo.  There are questions that must be answered regarding the collection and sharing of consumer data by the two companies.  We are concerned that this agreement is merely an initial step in what will eventually be the complete integration of Microsoft and Yahoo (including mobile, display, ad exchanges, research and development, etc.).  Both Microsoft and Yahoo understand that to compete in today’s online advertising marketplace, search and display marketing (including data collection, analysis, and targeting) must be closely linked.

What we are now witnessing is the emergence of a global digital advertising duopoly:  Google and Microsoft/Yahoo. While the rationale for the deal is to provide some much needed competition to Google (and income for Yahoo), the further consolidation of the global digital advertising system should be a concern to Internet users, privacy advocates, online marketers, and competition regulators.  [Regulators in both the U.S. and the EU helped set the stage for this Microsoft/Yahoo deal when they approved without conditions Google’s takeover of DoubleClick –which CDD and others opposed].

Regulators will have to demonstrate to both consumers and search advertisers that they will actually benefit from this proposed deal:  will it really reduce the cost of search ads, bring tangible financial gains to consumers, and truly protect our privacy?

Facebook’s “Targeting Factors” for Advertising

To keep up with Facebook, it’s important to read the social media marketing publications and reports.  All Facebook is one such very useful online source.  Here are two recent excerpts from July 2009 posts on Facebook’s targeted advertising system:

 “Facebook provides 11 targeting factors for advertisers (with three new factors announced yesterday). Below is an outline of each of those factors:

1. Location – Facebook enables advertisers to target by country, state/provice, city, and metropolitan areas. All advertisements are required to have a location selected. This should be pretty straight-forward as to which location you’d like to select.
2. Age – Age is a standard demographic factor. Most marketers that have a well defined target-market will be able to select their age.
3. Birthday – This is one of Facebook’s latest advertising targeting filters. It should be pretty obvious what types of ads should be presented to people who’s birthday it is. Try wishin [sic] the user a happy birthday and offer them a gift for higher conversion rates.
4. Sex – Gender is another typical targeting filter for Facebook.
5. Keywords – Keywords will are based on a user’s profile information including Activities, Favorite Books, TV Shows, Movies, and more. I believe job titles are included in this field and I typically spend the most time trying to brainstorm effective keywords. What types of products do your customers like? What’s their job position within an organization? Spend time on this field and you’ll be rewarded.
6. Education – While you can target based on their level of education, this is most effective for targeting ads based on the schools that people went to. Want to announce a reunion for the University of Illinois class of 1996? This is a great way to promote it.
7. Workplaces – This is another great targeting filter. Often times you will know the companies that your target market works at. If you are looking to get new clients or looking to spread awareness within specific organizations, this filter can be priceless.
8. Relationship – Want to target people that are about to get married? This is a great tool for that. If you are a bar or club, you most likely want to go after those people that are single. While this filter can be useful, you also need to keep in mind that selecting any of these settings will remove all users that haven’t selected a relationship status in their profile.
9. Interested In – This factor is useful if a user’s sexual preferences are relevant to whatever you are advertising. I tend to skip this field for most of my ads.
10. Languages – If your ad is in English but the user speaks Chinese, it’s probably not a good idea to be displaying ads to them.
11. Connections – The connections fields were launched yesterday by Facebook and they enable you to include and exclude users based on pages, events, and applications that the users have joined and you happen to be the administrator of. If you’ve created a Page and don’t want the ads to display to people who have already joined, this is a great way to avoid duplicate clicks.

If you aren’t taking advantage of the numerous targeting factors then you aren’t using Facebook advertising effectively. In order to have an increased conversion rate on your advertisements, increase the targeting in order to make the advertisement more relevant for the users. Relevance will get people to respond to your ad.”


Over the past couple weeks I’ve been writing about hints of new targeting features for Facebook Ads. As of today, those features have gone live. This evening Facebook posted a note on the Facebook Ads page about three new filters: Connections, Locations, and Birthdays. We already posted about the multi-country advertisements but not about the additional two filters: connections and birthdays.

Connections enable advertisers to target members of groups, pages, or events that they own or target those users that are not already members. This avoids having ads show up for people that have already joined. Facebook is also now enabling advertisers to target those individuals who’s birthdays it is. These are extremely powerful targeting features that I’m sure advertisers will welcome.

Currently there are no advertising platforms (that I’m aware of) that provide this level of targeting capabilities. With these new features, Facebook will be able to increase revenue while increasing the effectiveness of ads. One thing that has been challenging for Facebook is to receive high conversion levels but with these new targeting features, creative advertisers will be able to increase their conversion levels.

One group that can also benefit from this new ad platform is application developers. Want to get new users that aren’t yet using your application? Now you can exclude all users of your existing application and only target those that haven’t installed it. This is something that as far as I know, no cost-per-install networks are able to provide yet. Facebook has been heavily focused on improving their advertising offerings over the past few weeks and with this latest announcement, it’s clear that Facebook is looking to provide powerful tools for all advertisers.

Disney’s Bob Iger, Kids and Behavioral Tracking/Targeting: He Claims “Kids don’t care” about their Privacy

My friend the children’s TV activist Peggy Charren, back during the 1970’s and 1980’s, had a favorite expression when it came to dealing with self-serving media moguls who trampled on concerns about kids:  “I’d like to wash your mouth out with soap,” she would exclaim (given her tenacity, they knew she meant business).  Robert Iger, the head of Disney, is quoted in Reuters saying that: “If we could sell your behavior to an advertiser — I am actually pretty bullish about what technology is going to allow in terms of behavioral tracking. I think we are going to have information to sell to marketers.”

Unbelievably, Mr. Iger, when citing concerns over privacy, says that: “Kids don’t care,”…adding that when he talked to his adult children about their online privacy concerns “they can’t figure out what I’m talking about.”

Mr. Iger has just dramatically tarnished the Disney brand, by suggesting that it’s okay to engage in digital marketing and data collection to children and adolescents.  Not only is he thumbing his nose at the bipartisan Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, but the growing concern health, parenting and children’s groups have regarding youth privacy and consumer protection.  Instead of Disney being a youth industry leader when it comes to digital marketing, it appears the company is shirking what its role should be.  Peggy–I hope you still have one of those bars of soap!

Technology Policy Institute Spins the Privacy Debate in D.C.–Group funded by Some of the Biggest Data Collection Companies

Today, the Technology Policy Institute (TPI) is holding a Hill forum on privacy and the Internet.  The group’s announcement for the event states that More privacy, however, would mean less information, less valuable advertising, and thus fewer resources available for producing new low-priced services.  It is this tradeoff that Congress needs to take into account as it considers new privacy legislation.”

What an absurd, reductionistic, and intellectually-dishonest claim.  First, this group is funded by some of the largest companies engaged in behavioral data collection and also fighting meaningful privacy policies.   That includes Google and Time Warner.  TPI’s other funders involved in some form of data collection and targeted interactive marketing include AT&T, Cisco, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Verizon.  Rep. Cliff Stearns, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on the Communications, Technology, and the Internet is speaking at the event: that committee is currently drafting privacy legislation to protect consumers.  Panel speakers include TPI supporters Google and Comcast.  The lone privacy group on the panel, CDT, is funded by Google and others.  One academic on the panel also works for a high-tech consulting company.  The other panel academic has done fine work on social networks and privacy.

What makes TPI’s posturing absurd, beyond its funding conflicts, is the current economic crisis.  Consumer privacy laws are required to ensure that our financial, health and other personal transactions online are conducted in a responsible manner.  Anyone–or group–who believes that we can’t have both privacy and a robust online marketplace is out of touch.

IAB Works to Undermine Obama Consumer Protection Plan [On its Exec. Board includes Google, Time Warner, Disney, NYT, CBS, WPP]

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) signed a July 20, 2009 letter sent to Rep. Barney Frank of the House Committee on Financial Services raising questions–and really attempting to undermine–the Obama Administration’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Others signing the letter included the Business Roundtable, Consumers Bankers Association, Consumer Data Industry Association, Financial Services Roundtable, the Real Estate Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The IAB wasn’t the only ad lobby group signing the letter; so did the 4A’s and the DMA.  My colleagues in the consumer community view the letter as an attempt to derail the bill [the letter, which asks for a delay on the bill, says that “there will be significant dangerous, unintended consequences if the legislation is enacted in its current form.”]

Why would the IAB be concerned about the creation of a new powerful consumer financial watchdog?  It’s because their members work with companies engaged in digitally-related financial products–including mortgages, loans, credit cards, and so-called lead generation services.  The IAB benefits from the hundreds of millions spent year year on interactive ads for financially-related services (Among the top 15 digital advertisers in 2008 were Scottrade,, TD Ameritrade Holding Co, Bank of America, FMR Corp, Experian, etc.). The IAB is clearly afraid of having an agency that would be empowered to investigate how online marketers sell and promote a wide range of financial products online.

We do wonder whether IAB board members that support the Obama Administration’s proposal (which is widely backed by consumer groups) understand the implications of the position it has taken.  Personally, I believe the creation of the new agency is critically important.  We must ensure that American consumers are never again victims when buying financial products.  Given that most of us will be learning about and purchasing financial services online, the proposed new agency will have to address how a number of IAB’s members engage in digitally-delivered financial services.

Audience Science Behavioral Targeting System: “200 billion behavioral events to look at every day”

From this week’s Behavioral Insider (discussing Hulu’s move into behavioral targeting).  The behavioral industry still claims all this data collection and targeting is privacy friendly because it’s allegedly not “personally identifiable.”  We are glad that Congress, the FTC and the EU are now examining this industry.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

As part of an effort to support the massive amounts of data coming in from the little tags, AudienceScience has built the capability to pull and store more than two billion behavioral events each day. The system stores the data for 90 days before purging it. “We have about 200 billion behavioral events to look at every day,” [Jeff Hirsch, president and CEO of AudienceScience] says. “So, when we have advertisers searching for people that have researched and want specific things, we have massive amounts of information to create target segments, all with non-personally identifiable information.” 

source:  Targeting Consumers Anywhere They Consume Media.  Laurie Sullivan.  Mediapost.  July 22, 2009 [reg. required]

PS:  the author tells me that the “two billion” and “200 billion” behavioral events describe different Audience Science metrics.

A Microsoft/Yahoo! Deal will Raise Privacy and Competition Issues [Annals of Behavioral Targeting Mergers]

Microsoft and Yahoo!  should expect privacy and consumer groups to vigorously press regulators to closely and skeptically examine any deal–and at the very least urge them to impose a series of tough conditions on data collection and ad practices.  This digital duo will not get a free data collection pass from privacy and consumer groups, even if a new combination would provide much needed competition to Google.  Microsoft and Yahoo have created elaborate data collection services across platforms and applications, including for behavioral targeting.  They have competing ad targeting businesses in search, display and mobile, for example.  Both companies operate leading ad exchanges (where our profile data is bought and sold like food commodities). They also have competing ad targeting research and development efforts. Beyond the US, there are important competition and privacy issues for the EU as well.

A merger that further concentrates control by a dwindling very few over the digital marketing and advertising business illustrates how quickly consolidation has emerged as a principal and worrisome feature of the Internet era.

Google to EU: Protecting Privacy and Regulating Behavioral Targeting Could Threaten the Economy [Annals of Hypocrisy and Digital Chicken Licken Scare Tactics]

It’s both silly and disingenuous when companies tell policymakers, as they regularly do, that if they act to protect consumers it would undermine a country’s economic status.   Both that’s what Google’s chief privacy official appears to have told top European Union officials responsible for privacy and consumer protection last month.  At the Interactive Advertising Bureau/EU annual conference, Peter Fleisher, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel [my bold], “underlined the economic importance of web 2.0. Targeted advertising does not only affect online platforms but also advertisers themselves and the broader economic ecosystem. He urged the Commission to consider the wider economic repercussions before imposing any regulation on behavioural advertising.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continued its digital doublespeak efforts, telling some it supported privacy legislation while it also simultaneously worked on ineffective self-regulatory schemes.   At the IAB EU event, Peter Cullen, Chief Privacy Strategist at Microsoft “explained [to EU officials] the many benefits consumers get from online advertising as it finances a variety of free services available to them. Mr Cullen warned that policy initiatives must not exacerbate the problem and that a balance of self regulation, policy making and industry unity was required.”

The failure to regulate the economy has brought havoc and suffering for many millions of people throughout the world.  Google and Microsoft, as digital leaders, should be acting responsibly and support meaningful legislation that protects and empowers citizens and consumers.  The economy (and civil society) will be even healthier when it is governed by policies that ensure individuals comprehend and control the digital data collection and targeting system that is now unleashed throughout the world.

Digital Surveillance & Privacy: Behavioral Tracking on Social Networks and in Virtual Worlds

Social media monitoring–where social networks and social marketers track what users post and who they communicate to–is part of today’s behavioral targeting landscape.  Such eavesdropping is also occurring within virtual spaces, as well.  Here’s an excerpt from Behavioral Insider [17 July 2009].  When you read it, consider that the online marketing lobby is working to prevent lawmakers from protecting your privacy:

Cracking the social media monetization code has become one of the main obsessions of behavioral targeting in the past year. The data produced by social networks is just too juicy, too intimate, too valuable for any self-respecting data miner to resist…The great promise of social media for advertisers is that it represents such a rich font of relatively uninhibited exchanges among people, troves of intentionality, a mosh pit of sentiment and real records of what people do. We are only scratching the surface of ways to leverage this new kind of virtual conversations…We are only beginning to see how this sort of online behavior can be leveraged and used both in world and outside of the virtual space. “Think of it as a transactional graph as opposed to a social graph,” says [CEO of TwoFish Lisa] Rutherford. “Take a real-world analog. I am a female in her thirties, married and living in Palo Alto. You know I go to the gym, to local restaurants. I shop. I go to work. That is all fine. And that is equivalent to online behavioral targeting. But wouldn’t you really like to know that I only buy organic fruits, that when I go to the gym I take yoga and pay this much for the class? And when I go to a restaurant I often order chicken. That gives you interesting information in the real world that might make you send me a health magazine as opposed to Us weekly. We can do all of that in a game.”

source:  Virtually Real Behaviors.  Steve Smith.  Behavioral Insider.  17 July 2009.