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Marketers claim that regulation could bring the end of free content as we know it

Behavioral advertising, the subject of an FTC town hall debate last November, is facing yet more scrutiny from the FTC. Now, says the Commission, it is considering new guidelines to protect the privacy of web surfers everywhere, by heavily clamping down on what data advertisers can store and how they can store it.

For now, the guidelines will probably be voluntary: a sudden onset of mandatory rules could disrupt marketers, who so far have expressed disagreement with the FTC’s course of action.

At the root of the problem lies the invasive nature of behavioral advertising: by assigning websurfers a tracking cookie unique to the advertising network, marketing firms can track and analyze a user’s activities whenever he or she enters a site that carries an advertiser’s ads. As such, the cookie will follow a user around the internet, silently collecting information on his or her surfing habits in order to serve ever more relevant, targeted advertisements when the opportunity presents itself: in one example, The Washington Post illustrates how advertisers might find a bride by looking for people who “read about weddings in the news, entered ‘bridesmaid dresses’ into a search engine or surfed fashion pages for wedding styles.”

Such tracking has rights groups up in arms over privacy concerns, who claim that the tracking behind behavioral advertising can build intimate profiles of users and, consequently, betray a given surfer’s identity.

According to the marketing companies, the only way that users are linked with past history is through an anonymous, random tracking ID, which cannot be used to identify an individual.

Further, users have the option of deleting the cookie that the tracking ID is stored in.

Privacy groups say that marketers’ protections are not enough. “It is not anonymous if the companies are tracking the same user over time,” said Center for Democracy and Technology spokesperson Ari Schwartz. An even bigger concern, says Schwartz, is that advertisers can know what a person is reading, regardless of whether it’s news stories or fiction stories.

Conceivably, forensic investigators armed with a suspect’s tracking ID – lifted from his or her cookies, could subpoena a marketing firm for the suspect’s browsing history, all without a wiretap.

Behavioral advertising is a must in today’s market, say marketers: online advertising, which grossed $11 billion annually last year, is struggling to compete with the larger players in the advertising world; television ad revenues totaled $64 billion in the same time period. Even the owners of some of the world’s largest advertising-supported websites, including YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook, “struggled” to make money from internet ads.

Moreso, limiting behavioral advertising could kill free content on the internet as we know it: webmasters require the highest-paying ads they can find, but advertisers are only willing to pay more when they know more about their users. To revert to untargeted advertising would cut advertisers’ payouts and leave users to rot in a graveyard of annoying, flashing gimmicks. Television advertisers receive deep insight on their audience, so why can’t internet advertisers have the same luxury?

The Washington Post uses the example of a commercial web page that pitches a product, versus a noncommercial webpage that has “no product to pitch.” In the first case, advertisers can infer what would be considered good ad placement and what wouldn’t – but in the second case, unless they have outside information, the best a marketer can do is place ads blindly, or choose something with a universal – and therefore low-value – appeal.

“The problem for newspapers is that a story headlined ‘Two Dead in Baghdad’ isn't very product-friendly,” said Kent Ertugrul, who serves as the CEO for UK-based Phorm, an advertising network that partners with news outlets. “But if you know who is looking at the page, that's where the opportunity is.”

Despite marketers’ assurances, most users are uneasy with being tracked: one poll, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that six out of 10 users expressed concern with the level of tracking over the internet.

To remedy the situation, the FTC wants advertisers to give users a clear warning that they are being tracked, and provide them the option of opting out of behavioral tracking altogether. “Every Web site,” reads a draft, should allow surfers to choose “whether or not to have their information collected for such purpose.”

Newspaper Association of America representative Paul Boyle, whose members both support and often rely on revenues from behavioral tracking, sees little worry about. “I really don't know that there is a personal privacy issue here … the government really needs to let things play out.”



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so?
By Gul Westfale on 5/25/2008 12:32:48 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
Marketers claim that regulation could bring the end of free content as we know it


the so-called "free" content we have now is usually infested with pop-up ads and more often than not the entire product does not come free with some ads but was devised only to sell adspace in the first place. changing this business model does not bother me one bit. i pay for the stuff i like, and i hate being hunted down by these marketing morons everywhere i go. some of this shit is downright creepy...

i never use any product that has annoyed me through marketing in some way, and i'm sure i'm not the only one, so i think a lot of these companies are shooting themselves in the foot when they do this. maybe they will learn from this... but then again, i don't think so.




RE: so?
By Nik00117 on 5/25/2008 5:12:25 AM , Rating: 2
They want to learn what you like so they can offer you better products. Who you market too is important. Like I own a company that does a DD taxi service for poeple wanting to go out and get drunk. Well I'd never want to advertise on some kids website. No that'd be stupid, I wouldn't get any results from that, and I could get in trouble. However maybe if someone is searching for different types of dirnks, or the hottest clubs. I want those customers.

THis advertisement method is to mkae life better for you. And if anyone ever wanted to rob you well you'd go on vacatrion, I highly doubt they'd go through this much trouble. If you want to know when I go on vacation simply ask.


RE: so?
By Gul Westfale on 5/25/2008 11:05:43 AM , Rating: 2
i feel they want to annoy me more by invading my privacy... if i want to buy something i go out and do some research on it, but i never buy something that is seemingly forced on me. like when you go into a store and the salesman jumps you... i always leave such stores right away and go somewhere where i can browse around in peace.


RE: so?
By mindless1 on 5/25/2008 6:31:29 PM , Rating: 2
"this much trouble" is not necessarily so much trouble because this is computerized and a 3rd party (or rogue entity within a trusted 2nd party) could harvest quite a lot of information via automation. Consider it's a bit of trouble to have marketing firms track you just to display a little more valuable ad as well, and yet this is exactly what they do.

People wouldn't go through this much trouble to rob you though? Did you feel a typical robber just busts down the front door on the first house immediate to their location? Generally they're wanting to not get caught and will go to whatever level of effort deemed necessary if they feel the payoff is enough. If they knew you buy $1000 stereo equipment for example, that might tend to be an indicator you have quite a few (including other) goodies lying around.

You'd really tell an anonymous person, who through anonymity you couldn't hold accountable or report to police if something were to happen, when your home will be unattended? If you feel comfortable doing so, good for you to have this comfortable illusion of security, and it is an illusion as we do both know that certain bad elements would think about robbing you if they knew you wouldn't be home.

The remaining question is whether someone with the online skills to pull this off would also be a home burgler. Odds are pretty low I would think, maybe only a few percent but it only takes ONE person intent on it and they'll find somebody to rob even if it's not you personally.

Never underestimate the illogical behavior of others, if they were using good judgement they'd have found another way to make the money already, no?


RE: so?
By Ratwar on 5/27/2008 2:47:48 AM , Rating: 2
You pay for DailyTech, AnandTech, and Wikipedia? Free Ad supported content...


RE: so?
By MrBlastman on 5/27/2008 9:40:08 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Unless you want to pay for every website you visit, you better be willing to accept advertisers here and there.

It isn't cheap to:

a. Rent co-lo space
b. Pay for monthly bandwidth
c. Hire a sysadmin to maintain servers
d. Constantly provide new content

The world ain't free. If you don't want to look at ads, how else do you expect websites such as this one to stay in business?

If you _really_ do not like the ads, you can always set up a black hole in your hosts file so you never have to look at them again. Don't ruin it for the rest of us. I hate ads too, but I'd much rather have websites to visit that I don't have to pay cash for every month also.


hmmm...
By dome1234 on 5/25/2008 6:37:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
online advertising, which grossed $11 billion annually last year, is struggling to compete with the larger players in the advertising world; television ad revenues totaled $64 million in the same time period


64 billion you mean?

btw, i set my browser to always clear all info after each session, my ip's dynamic and i'm using firefox with adblock on, scripts off. The reason? i hate java/flash based ads.

I wonder what's the ratio of bandwidth used for advertising to normal use. A typical tv programme has 10-15 min of ads in an hour.




RE: hmmm...
By x33rli7ht on 5/25/2008 8:56:16 AM , Rating: 3
yea firefox equipped with adblock pro noscript and flashblock.

online advertising ???


RE: hmmm...
By KaiserCSS on 5/25/2008 11:38:57 AM , Rating: 2
Sir, the only words I can muster to add to this comment are:

"UR T3H 1337"


Pfft.
By Digimonkey on 5/25/2008 12:29:26 AM , Rating: 2
I think people are getting overboard with privacy concerns. When you're shopping online for something particular I think it's nice that other sites know what you might be looking for. Amazon's behavioral tracking has lead me to buy several things I may have not searched for or even knew about in the past.

Most sites really aren't concerned about who you are, where you live and what you're plans might be. They are just after your money.

Edit note: I think you meant 64 Billion annually for T.V. advertising.




RE: Pfft.
By Ringold on 5/25/2008 3:51:56 AM , Rating: 2
I'm fine with sites I use tracking what I do within their site. Just like you, I'm happy Amazon has pointed out some books to me that are similar to ones I've already read but didn't know of. I search Google some times not for real search results but to look at the text ads that come up when I want to find some sites and do some price comparison in a hurry.

That said, I don't want Google to continue to track me after I leave their site, for example. Everything past that point is a private matter as far as I am concerned.


RE: Pfft.
By mindless1 on 5/25/2008 6:37:48 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, most aren't concerned about these things, but it's the minority that abuse the information that we'd be concerned about. This knee-jerk reaction to the potential problem might be overjealous but the opposite side of the coin which would be similarly inaccurate would be to think there is no problem at all.

Remember, databases do sell for money and the more they have in them the more they're worth. For example, there are databases that contain info some people have filled in on rebate forms, and those who have filled them in have no control over who that info was sold to. We all hope and expect privacy disclosures to be restrictive, and adhered to, but it's not always the case.

It's all a matter of whether the solution, and it's impact, is better or worse than the problem it attempts to solve.


How much are you worth?
By rsmech on 5/25/2008 12:08:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Even the owners of some of the world’s largest advertising-supported websites, including YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook, “struggled” to make money from internet ads.


I find it kind of funny that some companies are willing to spend millions if not more to buy a portion if not full control of these websites. Yet they "struggled" to make money, I'd hate to see what a successful internet company cost. If this is the case it's not the revenue someone is buying, it is you. You have more value than these companies making money. So my question is how much are you worth? Revenue doesn't seem to be the reason to buy one of these companies, they barely have one.




RE: How much are you worth?
By mindless1 on 5/25/2008 6:43:01 PM , Rating: 2
When the dot com era created all the new monopoly money the rules changed, but then we know struggling to make money on them at some point does not equal not making any, then, let alone now.


Switch cookies off
By wvh on 5/26/2008 1:39:36 AM , Rating: 1
This is why I have always had cookies switched off in my preferences. Most browsers have a preference setting to delete all cookies when you close the browser.

Marketeers think they have some magical right to bombard people with all their inane shit, taking up precious pixels on millions of computer screens, using resources for Flash and animated gifs, and generally annoy the crap out of people. You can't go anywhere without a zillion ads polluting the environment.

Some Flash commercial banners even have sound, so when you are listening to some good music, you have some screaming in your ear all of a sudden. It makes me want to punch a marketing monkey in the face.

Just imagine I would go around town following marketing people around, keeping track of what they do, flash signs in front of their eyes the whole time, and shouting dumb commercial slogans at them.

This whole "free content" discussion is just about how much abuse human beings can stand before they get too jaded or nuts. And the biggest problem of it all, is that except for some flash/pop-up blockers, you can't do anything about it.

Some of the worst companies – Flash-based ads anyone? – should be sued for lost time and failing to pay for the (unauthorised) rent of screen estate and other hardware.




so...
By sprockkets on 5/25/08, Rating: -1
RE: so...
By MrDiSante on 5/25/2008 1:07:39 AM , Rating: 5
You should feel violated by this: some day you decide to look up directions how to get somewhere from your house - they now know where you live; then your kids decide to look up their names just for the heck of it - they now know their names.

Then some idiot like whoever released AOL's search records makes that information public and everybody with access to internet can look at every single thing you looked for on the internet and half the sites you browsed.

I'll keep my privacy, thanks.


RE: so...
By MrDiSante on 5/25/2008 1:16:15 AM , Rating: 5
And if that doesn't seem bad to you, imagine that you also look up tickets for vacation in the Bahamas - they now know when you're away. When you come back from vacation you find that someone's rummaged through your house, stolen thousands of dollar worth of stuff, half your legal papers, credit cards etc. But don't worry, privacy's not important.

P.S. I want an edit button


RE: so...
By GaryJohnson on 5/25/2008 3:22:21 AM , Rating: 2
If you buy the tickets online, you have to give them your address anyhow, not to mention your credit card number.


RE: so...
By Hare on 5/25/2008 3:39:07 AM , Rating: 2
But that information remains between you and the service provider. I personally wouldn't want cookies or other information digging tools to have access to this information and pass it to a third party like an advertising agency.


RE: so...
By DarkElfa on 5/25/08, Rating: -1
RE: so...
By Shinei on 5/25/2008 5:33:32 AM , Rating: 5
So, it doesn't affect you, so it doesn't matter if it happens?

I'm not really hungry right now, so who cares about world hunger, right? I don't have AIDS, so I don't know why people are putting so much money into AIDS research! This is ridiculous! Such paranoia!

Anyway, the "targeted ads" issue is mostly obnoxious because it does provide an ethereal paper trail for people to follow. Obviously, you shouldn't be concerned if you have nothing to hide, but it's more the principle of the fact that people might know what you're doing.
When you take a shower, do you lock the door to the bathroom? I'm going to assume you do, because there aren't many people who don't value their privacy--and that's the counter-argument to targeted ads.

But, hey, it doesn't affect me, since I just adblock every ad I come across anyway.


RE: so...
By beavischongus on 5/25/2008 6:24:50 PM , Rating: 2
We dont control meteors or jesus returning. We do have some say in these adds and bushes third term. Perhaps you should see a psychologist if you cant tell the difference. But if youre saying youre just really passive towards life, I suggest you spread your cheeks and let them stick it in. Oh, and the world doesnt revolve around you, a lot of us here do purchase online and utilize search engines.


RE: so...
By JonnyDough on 5/27/2008 12:04:38 AM , Rating: 2
You must not be American. If you were, you'd know that Bush can't have a third term.


RE: so...
By croc on 5/25/08, Rating: -1
RE: so...
By audiomaniaca on 5/25/2008 8:24:28 AM , Rating: 5
Don't be silly. You know it's impossible to play around with cookies disabled. It's like driving a car with the hand break pulled.

Also, when people delete cookies, they also lose password information.

For the history, that's also dumb. It's impossible for a website to have access to your browser's history.


RE: so...
By walk2k on 5/25/08, Rating: 0
RE: so...
By mindless1 on 5/25/2008 6:19:30 PM , Rating: 2
It looks awefully silly of you to make such remarks about tin-foil hats when in fact you are WRONG.

Cookies do not only store "a unique number assigned to you".
Obviously you have never bothered to check the contents of your cookies after letting them build up for awhile.

There have also been vulnerabilities in which a different *site* could read cookies they shouldn't have been able to.

You write "not on any system with reasonable security", ok now which delusion are YOU living in because we all know there is no OS, nor browser, without flaws that may eventually be patched but it's always a catch-up game.

It would seem I'm handing out clues today, did you get yours?


RE: so...
By Samus on 5/26/2008 2:04:58 PM , Rating: 2
That's why I have a 90lb dog named Ian. He's my 'holiday' security system. I dare the cookie monster to rummage my papers while I'm gone.


RE: so...
By AlexWade on 5/25/2008 12:04:35 PM , Rating: 4
Lets not forget about the deep packet ad services such as Phorm in the UK and NebuAd and Front Porch here in the US. NebuAd is currently running with Comcast and Embarq DSL. Tracking cookies can be blocked and deleted, NebuAd is a lot harder to stop. You have to "opt-out" with a cookie in your browser. But what if you use another browser on another computer or with another user account? Comcast talks about NebuAd, Embarq acts like they rather get a root canal without being numbed than even acknowledge NebuAd exists.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/09/how-shoul...
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/charter-w...

The problem with deep packet marketing is that everything you browse that is not secure is stored for 14 days. Use Google Maps to get directions, NebuAd has it. Accidentally go to a bad site, NebuAd has it. Browse torrents, NebuAd has it. Have confidential material sent in webmail, NebuAd has it. Then suppose NebuAd has a security breach, now cyberthieves can have lots and lots of personal information to farm. Or blackmail you with. Or what if the government subpoenaed NebuAd's data.

Those scenarios are very much a possibility. And it could be worse. Some dystopian government can get NebuAd's tracking service to monitor the people's browsing habits. It can be part of the great firewall of China.

Oh, by the way, one of the execs for NebuAd was an exec for Gain Gator, a known spyware and adware company.


"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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