Friday, November 19, 2010

Datamine this!

I was reading an article about web traffic on Yahoo! just now and I noticed an ad on the right for Air New Zealand.

Now, maybe, they just posted that ad because it's a US ip address, or there's a Hawaii campaign going on. If so, that's probably fine.

But if they targeted that to me because it's me... then I don't like it at all. I happened to be logged in under my paca-related account. Do my emails mention those key words? I really don't want Yahoo's computers looking for statistically rare phrases in my private messages* and then matching that with ads they can display. You are a computer. You don't need to know about me and give stuff to me that I care about. My friends can do that, because they are actual people that I have an actual relationship with. Honestly, I don't know how Yahoo would know my NZ connection. Do they have some info from Facebook? If so, even more, boo!

Now, I get that some people really do want to have things sent to them that they care about. They like ads targeted to them instead of completely useless stuff. That's fine. Give them a checkbox saying "please send me targeted ads" and then send away. Don't just datamine me though without asking. If I get mad enough about it, I will just stop using your software and you won't even get to send mass ads to me.

But maybe it's just an ad campaign to the U.S. and I'm not personally relevant. If so, this is just a hypothetical rant.

And for the record, no, I don't like cameras taking pics of public streets either just in case someone breaks a law. Yes, we can save money if a camera does it instead of a cop, but that's sort of the point. There's an actual cost when you have a real person watch the public and so the government only can afford to do it when it's possibly important. The lower cost it is to monitor the public, the more monitoring there will be.

We shouldn't completely cede public space to those who wish to make a buck from us or who have a laudable public goal. Yes, there is an important distinction between public and private areas, but just because it's "public" it doesn't mean you can treat me like crap.

So there.

*Yes, I know that emails should not be viewed as truly private, but more like postcards that could be read my someone else. But I don't want a company reading my postcards either, writing down my interests, and then sticking an appropriate mailer in my box either. Wasn't some guy convicted recently for hacking into Sarah Palin's emails? If so, then why do Google and Yahoo's computers get to do it? Yes, yes, it's sort of how we pay them. We get to use their service for free; they get to record what we do and sell ads. But that deal is nowhere near as upfront as it needs to be. Instead, we get a constantly changing deal where what we have given up changes, often without our knowledge or where we have to opt out.


Just this morning I received an email from Sprint about their privacy policy. Here are paragraphs 2 and 3:

"We collect information about how you use your phone, including the types of Web sites you visit and services you purchase such as ringtones or wallpaper downloads billed through Sprint. We aggregate the information, packaging it in a form that does not personally identify you (does not include identifying information such as your name, address, email address or telephone number). Then, we may share it with our partners. The purpose is to provide you advertisements about goods and services that may be useful to you. For example, based on your mobile purchase of a sports-themed ring tone, Sprint may, along with its ad partners, present an ad about an upcoming sports event on a Web site you visit using your device, instead of a random ad.

If you'd rather we didn't use this information for selecting the ads that you see, you may opt-out. To find out how to opt-out and to learn more about internet-based advertising and your privacy, click here."

Now, I applaud Sprint for actually saying this, and they don't just say it on page 11 of a user agreement. This was a three paragraph email and I copied two of the paragraphs above. So, for honesty, go Sprint. That said, they've got the choosing backwards. It needs to be opt in, not opt out. You don't start recording what I do and then only stop if I say so. If this is so helpful, tell me you can do it for me and let me choose it. Moreover, this is Sprint, I pay them hundreds of dollars a year so that I can use this phone and I would pay more for a data plan. This isn't ad-based broadcast television where I don't pay for the service.

In this case, it doesn't particularly affect me, since I don't use the web on my phone. The phone's getting so beat up and old, I can barely use it as a phone still. But at the end of the email, I did "click here."


Phoenix said...

I've noticed that when I do an intense search and price compare around an item I want to purchase (widescreen TV, TV stand, laptop, etc) using Google, ads for those same items pop up in my Yahoo mail interface. 99% of the time I browse and search under my Phoenix identity because I mainly stay logged into those accounts on Yahoo and Google. The real me is always logged into my private work intranet.

When you first went Down Under, did you look up articles, places to see, or shop for tickets under your paca-ID? Or have you done research about NZ while logged in under that ID since? I'm betting you have and the ads are just targeting your IP.

But way Big Brother spooky, eh?

Except by the time the ads start appearing on my Yahoo page, I've already done purchased the dang item. What are they hoping for? Buyer's remorse?

fairyhedgehog said...

I have the same experience as Phoenix. I'm currently getting lots of laptop adverts and there's no way to tell them they are too late!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think it's funny sometimes when I search something that isn't on my shopping list and then get the targeted ads. They're so wrong, but that target software doesn't know that.

Maybe that's the only part of the datamining that doesn't feel Big Brotherish to me - it's software and not some human sitting there looking at what I'm doing and thinking "she wants an enhancer - I just know it".