Archive for the ‘Privacy’ Category

Google to ‘Anonymize’ StreetView

November 30, 2007

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Google is apparently going to blur the faces of people and other identifying information in Europe (and probably Canada) as it rolls out StreetView in those markets.

It will likely do the same in the US says IDG News. This is clearly the right move for the company and would eliminate some persistent concerns about what is otherwise a terrific product.



We’re All in The Truman Show Now

November 30, 2007

Truman ShowIf you haven’t seen Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show you should. It’s a great, darkly satirical movie that anticipates the rise of YouTube, online TV, the no-privacy future — and numerous people turning their lives and experiences into fodder for online entertainment.

Apropos of that is this video interview with Sarah Meyers. It almost plays like a parody of itself, but both she and her interviewer are in total earnest. I had never heard of her until I read this post on TechCrunch.

On the one hand you could see this young woman as a shrewd self promoter, bootstrapping herself into a career in “TV.” But on the other you could see her as a representative of a generation (I’m 43) that has a diminishing sense of the value of privacy and has been raised on Oprah and Jerry Springer where people willingly exploit their own lives for attention, celebrity and financial gain.

I’m struck that is woman, as a “lifecaster,” is simply an extreme version of something that many people now aspire to: notoriety for its own sake. By the same token, making all your interests and activities known on Facebook is another example, on the continuum, of this phenomenon.

As a friend of mine said to me this morning, “it’s a perfect marriage of narcissism and voyeurism.”

Beacon, Hubris and Nemesis

November 30, 2007

Beacon’s “opt-out” policy was a clear example of hubris on the part of the folks at Facebook:

“There is no opting out of advertising,” Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said when the new ad programs were announced earlier this month.

But apparently there is . . .

The firestorm of controversy that surrounded the Beacon tracking program is what the Greek’s meant by “nemesis”: “to give what is due.” The belief that Facebook users’ would just live with the near-involuntary tracking and broadcasting of their non-Facebook actions and transactions was born of a sense of invulnerability and momentum that Facebook gained from its growth and its new $15 billion valuation.

But the controversy would not go away and so last night Facebook, under pressure, made changes to the program that make it an opt-in rather than an opt-out. That was the single biggest issue with the program. And that’s good news for users. As I’ve argued previously:

In many situations, I probably wouldn’t care if people knew I wrote a favorable restaurant review or saw a particular movie. But I don’t want people to know where I stay or that I’m renting particular cars in particular places and so on. It’s this blanket tracking and data capture that creates all the privacy objections and problems — and potential spam in the newsfeeds.

Now with the program being an opt-in people will have to explicitly authorize the distribution of the information captured by Beacon. Many Facebook critics will not be entirely satisfied because the company is still tracking and capturing user behavior on those third-party sites. But the company has wisely done the right thing here, albeit because of heavy negative PR.

For more discussion, here’s my write up of the changes from SEL (which includes Facebook’s explanation of the changes) and here’s a nice overview of the changes from the New York Times’ Brad Stone.


Facebook has reportedly raised another $60 million, bringing this latest round to $300 million. The WSJ’s Kara Swisher reports that the investor is Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing. Make that ka-ching!

Facebook Beacon and Hotwire Surprise

November 26, 2007

Most people don’t care about online privacy as a practical matter. If they’re polled in the abstract they express concern but their behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect that concern. Partly that’s because they don’t know when or how they’re being tracked.

Facebook Beacon has garnered a fair bit of criticism for its monitoring/tracking of user behavior and opt-out (rather than opt-in) character.

But this past weekend, I was somewhat disturbed to find it in action when I made a rental car reservation on Hotwire. I didn’t realize I was still signed in to Facebook and when I concluded the reservation, which was quite a bit cheaper than on other sites BTW, I saw the little Beacon icon show up in the lower right corner of my screen. Gotta shut that down before it disappears I immediately thought.

In many situations, I probably wouldn’t care if people knew I wrote a favorable restaurant review or saw a particular movie. But I don’t want people to know where I stay or that I’m renting particular cars in particular places and so on. It’s this blanket tracking and data capture that creates all the privacy objections and problems — and potential spam in the newsfeeds.

The tool would be much more valuable to everyone if it could be made more selective (perhaps categories of activities that I don’t mind sharing, etc.). However, Facebook makes it a case-by-case opt-out because virtually no one would do it if it were an opt-in; and the value of the Beacon program for advertisers would be severely limited accordingly.

How Search Privacy Is Like Click Fraud — and Not

June 12, 2007

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.In this Google Blog post, Google discusses its privacy protection efforts and its response to the recent EU complaint and investigation about data retention. In this long post Danny Sullivan expresses his views on the issue of data retention, the EU and Google’s position (generally favorable to Google).

I don’t want to discuss the merits of the particular data retention issue. I want to discuss a potential shift that’s happening around perceptions and privacy. I’ll start with “click fraud.”

When click fraud emerged as a regular press issue in early 2006 the response of the search engines was a relatively casual “trust us, we’re doing all we can to combat the problem.” After more than a year of articles in newspapers and business magazines, class action litigation and the emergence of a cottage industry that has an interest in hyping click fraud, the engines got wise and started doing something more “transparent” and proactive. In August of last year they formed a working group with the IAB to address the issue and, more recently, Yahoo! appointed a click quality czar — a great move that was overdue.

Click fraud and the way it became a PR problem for the engines — not that it has gone away — holds some lessons for handling the resurgent question of privacy now, and Google in particular. The issue of privacy is not limited to Google of course or to search. But Google is the most visible search engine and doing the most things right now that have perceived privacy implications:

The general public may be largely unaware of the privacy debate going on right now, but there’s an emerging danger here for Google. That danger is that favorable public sentiment toward the engine changes and people become fearful of Google. What might be called “Googlephobia” has been on the rise among some people who believe the company is now too powerful. That power is also tied in to the privacy issue.

Let’s segment the public into three groups: insiders, influencers and everyone else. Let’s say that everyone who reads this blog qualifies as an “insider” (the earliest adopters). The colleagues we speak with on a regular basis but who don’t work in the Internet are the “influencers.” For example, I have a friend who is the head of a division of Wells Fargo who’s more savvy about technology but isn’t as close to the news as I am. Then there’s everyone else (for convenience’s sake).

Google rose to its mythic success on the heels of a better algorithm, positive buzz from insiders and early adopters and some lucky breaks (adoption by Yahoo! is one). Notwithstanding the findings of the recent InfoSpace/Dogpile search “overlap” study, the major search engines all do a good job of finding relevant results and deliver a generally good experience.

Part of what sustains Google’s leadership position is its brand strength and the good will of users. If Google’s reputation changes or the perception of the company sours then it has a major problem on its hands. And this is where I think Google is most vulnerable today, both on its own and competitively.

Ask’s UK-based “information underground” campaign (scroll for video) has a vaguely Orwellian implication: that it’s dangerous for one company to “control the Web’s information.” The not-so-subtext is that Google is Big Brother. While that may seem hyperbolic, some people are starting to feel that way.

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends who don’t work in the Internet but are fairly informed and who are using Google but have a less “warm and fuzzy” feeling about the company than they used to. If the general public starts to feel that Google is a big, scary company that is tracking them – whether or not that’s a rational perception — it could cause people to look for alternatives.

I believe that many Google insiders don’t see this issue or danger clearly because they’re immersed in the Google culture, which is fun and progressive. So what can or should Google do?

As it did with the EU, the company should go an extra mile/kilometer to address privacy concerns early and quickly. It shouldn’t take the opaque “trust us” position it did initially with click fraud. Google must be extremely transparent and explicit with users about its privacy protections and the controls it offers them. It’s not clear to me that “everyone else” has any understanding of what’s on this page.

I could be wrong about all this of course. . . but the next Google could emerge not by providing more relevant results, but by offering a comparable experience and more assurances to users about security and privacy.


Related: Gary Price points to a Carnegie Mellon study that argues “People are willing to pay extra to buy items from online retailers when they can easily ascertain how retailers’ policies will protect their privacy.”

Street View, Cameras Everywhere and Privacy

May 31, 2007

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.There are a lot of links flying around — just like the in the A9 Block View days — showing Google’s Street View capturing individuals in the act of taking out the garbage, jogging or going in to an adult bookstore.

I wrote about this at some length this morning:

Privacy is back – or at least the issue is back. A range events, announcements and investigations over the past several months have put privacy back in the headlines. And today the links are coming in showing funny, revealing or potentially embarrassing photos of people on Google’s new Street View photography. (To a large degree this is a replay of discussion and issues that arose when A9 introduced “Block View” two years ago.)

First the photographs:

BoingBoing has discussion, reader comments and links to a variety of “Street View Sightings.” Wired also collects a number of photographs, including a police bust, that are live on Street View.

Most people who are reacting negatively to Street View are responding “viscerally” to the idea of cameras now being everywhere and their actions being potentially captured and recorded at any given moment. I’m not throwing up my hands when I say this is now the world we live in — a world of omnipresent cameras, monitoring and recording.

Google Street View is a valuable and practical addition to Google Maps but it also helps raise important, larger questions about privacy in the Internet era. There needs to be a serious public and political debate about privacy at a time when search engines make personal information so readily discoverable and ubiquitous cameras and video capture increasing amounts of what goes on in public — and private life.

The full post, including some discussion of applicable law, is at Search Engine Land.

FTC Begins Google Anti-Trust Investigation

May 29, 2007

Here’s the story from the NY Times:

The Federal Trade Commission has opened a preliminary antitrust investigation into Google’s planned $3.1 billion purchase of the online advertising company DoubleClick, an industry executive briefed on the agency’s plans said yesterday.

The inquiry began at the end of last week, after it was decided that the Federal Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department would conduct the review, said the executive, who asked not to be identified because he had not been authorized to speak. The two agencies split the duties of antitrust enforcement.

An F.T.C. spokesman said yesterday that the agency did not comment on pending inquiries.

The EU also has an investigation going against Google (and MSFT, Yahoo). Google has faced lots of legal issues and litigation since it went public. The anti-trust “complaints” by big corporate competitors ring somewhat hollow and, I believe, are part of a shrewd PR campaign against the search market share leader.

But this is where Google is vulnerable. I don’t think the FTC will block the DoubleClick acquisition ultimately. I think the real danger for Google now lies in its footprint and market power. Consumers show no signs of abandoning Google, as it continues to gain search share.

If Google becomes seen as too powerful or in control of too much consumer data and thus a privacy risk it may erode the public’s confidence in Google. This is what I meant when I said that as Google appears to be more powerful than ever it is increasingly vulnerable.


Related: Microsoft’s Don Dodge posts on the relationship between search market share and market capitalization. He also analyzes Google’s revenues.

Scary Stuff: Search As Agent of TIA

April 24, 2007

Here’s Danny Sullivan’s post about how an Internet search pursuant to a random border stop of a Canadian psychotherapist revealed he had written an article years ago on the relative merits of hallucinogens vs. traditional psychotherapy. After being interrogated (based on the article he wrote) he was denied entry to the US upon admitting to using LSD himself in the past.

Whatever your views of his particular situation (mine are very dim of the government action) the larger issue it raises is that search engines will allow your “paper trail” to follow you in perpetuity. Everything (text, audio, video) that is cataloged or posted online could remain part of your “record” indefinitely.

Searching on people’s names is an increasingly common, quick way of checking people out. And as time goes on, the online record for many people may get more and more scary (in terms of stuff they’d like to forget themselves let alone conceal from others).

This raises all kinds of issues that people haven’t thought through. Recall that the US embarked on a now aborted Total/Terrorism Awareness Initiative, which was abandoned after rights and privacy groups raised persistent objections. That may be back in “de facto” form with the combination of a kind of permanent online record of all your activity and Internet search, which quickly facilitates its discovery.

Online Targeting and Privacy

November 2, 2006

PaidContent covers a complaint filed by consumer advocacy groups with the Federal Trade Commission regarding online advertising and consumer privacy. (You can download and read the entire complaint if you like.)

The thrust of the complaint involves using consumer registration data as the basis for ad targeting, something that both Microsoft and Yahoo! currently do, among others including online newspapers. Google is also named in the complaint.

Paid search is generally safe but behavioral and other types of precision ad targeting (e.g., demographic) — one of the chief selling points of online vs. traditional media — may ultimately have to be changed if this issue has “legs.”

Since most government agencies are now basically corrupt (there’s a cynical, political comment) and are only motivated by external rewards and punishments (rather than legal duty), the question of whether any action is taken will depend almost entirely on political pressure and media exposure.

One compromise might be to beef up disclosure requirements to consumers about how their data may be used upon registration and have strict controls to ensure that no personally identifiable information is made available to marketers (this is what the portals would say is now the case).

PaidContent also links to a more digestible WashingtonPost story about the complaint and the issue.

We May Have Free Nationwide Wi-Fi Yet

September 6, 2006

Om Malik has a roundup of municipal and state-wide efforts to build out free or low-cost networks. The NY Times discusses a partnership to bring free (and fee-based) Wi-Fi to SiliconValley as a whole.

Broadly available, low-cost Wi-Fi means:

  • The Internet can push to near ubiquity in major population centers
  • Everywhere, always-on means more hours, more usage
  • Wi-Fi mobile devices can be used as phones (carrier voice MOUs and data revenues go down). And consumers can be more accurately targeted for LBS
  • Telcos and cable co ISPs (unless they’re building the Wi-Fi networks) have diminished power to enact Net non-Neutrality

But it also potentially means less data security and more nasty surveillance by crooked governments or private sector criminals.

Gone This Week: Last-Minute Posts

August 13, 2006

Even as my wife loads up the car — we’re heading off for a week beyond the range of cellphones and email — I’m scrambling to get down some last-minute thoughts. There were three or four “meaty” posts I was going to do that will become abbreviated instead:

This LA Times poll (reg. req’d) shows that younger people aren’t as interested in mobile video as the conventional wisdom suggests.

And here’s a piece from USAToday (last week) on mobile advertising featuring Jumptap an interesting white label mobile search/content/ad company I spoke with at some length in the last couple weeks.

This piece from Saturday’s NY Times (reg. req’d) on privacy suggests (in the wake of AOL’s data fiasco) that there’s an opportunity for a search engine that better guards users’ privacy and doesn’t store data to emerge or seize the moment and market the heck out of that feature.

Again, no posts this week. I’ll be back on 8/20.

Eric Schmidt from High Atop the Search Perch

August 11, 2006

Go to Google Home
Because the interview with Eric Schmidt ran long there wasn’t much time to ask questions (especially about local or SMEs). A few things struck me however about the discussion. Here are some thoughts and random observations:

Schmidt made a very sincere and believable “appearance” (as they say in the legal profession). I buy that he means what he says.

He spoke at some length about the danger of “unscrupulous governments” (whether the US or foreign) trying to access search logs (questions prompted by the AOL fiasco). Assumed but never entirely justified in all his comments (about privacy and security) was that Google was inherently more trustworthy than those who might want the data. Danny Sullivan pressed Schmidt on this point but the Google CEO didn’t outline any specific processes or procedures to safeguard the data. He merely stated that what happened at AOL wouldn’t happen with Google (though he qualified with “never say never.”)

Schmidt broadly alluded to a huge vision for Google, which he has done before: that of bringing Google’s “targeting capability” to all media. Schmidt said, “One of the outcomes, if we do this right, is fewer ads that are more relevant to you.”

Another interesting remark was about the litigation that Google has confronted on multiple fronts. He said that he felt that at least some of the litigation was “a business negotiation being conducted in the courts.”

Schmidt also sneaked in unsolicited references to Google Checkout, which I thought was quite interesting. He also joked about not using Google as a verb for trademark reasons

Finally he made the often-heard statement that “consumers are just a click away from our competitors.” I don’t believe this. As I’ve argued before I think there’s a lot of habitual behavior now in search. There have been relevance studies that basically argue the quality of search results has reached parity across a number of engines (there are people now arguing in fact that MSN/Windows Live is better).

Let’s assume that the relevancy gap has closed among engines. Google’s share has continued to grow. Why? It’s the power of the Google brand, users’ general satisfaction with Google and their habitual behavior – Google is familiar.

All of that means, at least for the foreseeable future, Google will likely remain atop its search perch.

Google-News Corp. and Search Privacy

August 9, 2006

Om Malik “deconstructs” the Google-News Corp/Fox deal. Any way you slice it it’s a win for Google. (Here’s a very bullish assessment from the Internet Stock Blog).

Separately the NY Times (reg. req’d) drills down into the AOL search database debacle. There’s far too much in “the database” for an unscrupulous government now to use against individuals. And most consumers have no idea how much of their data and behavior is now “on file.”

Total Information Awareness,” which died legislatively because of a political uproar a few years ago is now here through the back door in the form of government access to communications records (search logs, phone records, etc.). Privacy is an issue we must again take seriously.

Microchips, Privacy and the Abuse of Technology

July 15, 2006

In discussing online privacy, government wiretapping/spying, kid tracking via GPS cellphone and other privacy related issues friends often joke with me, “Soon they’ll be implanting the microchips in us.” Good morning, here it is.

This story, “Insurers to Test Implantable Microchip,” discusses the idea of putting microchips with individual health histories under the skin of chronically ill patients:

In a new test program, Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey plans to implant patients suffering from chronic diseases with a microchip that will give emergency room staff access to their medical information and help avoid costly or serious medical errors, the insurer said on Friday.

Horizon plans to announce on Monday that it is teaming up with Hackensack University Medical Center in a pilot program where 280 patients regularly treated at the hospital will be implanted with a chip containing a code. The chip would allow emergency room personnel to retrieve a patient’s medical record if the individual can’t communicate.

In one view of the world that seems not only reasonable but a great idea. But stop and think. Wouldn’t this be the “thin end of the wedge”?

How about: in order to get insurance you need to have one of these chips implanted? How about criminals/ex-cons? (Let’s start with convicted sex offenders — nobody has any sympathy for their rights.) Shouldn’t they have these chips so they could be monitored and tracked at all times as a crime deterrent?

And what about our kids? Wouldn’t this enable police to find missing or kidnapped children? Wouldn’t parents naturally want that kind of protection for their children? And heck, having a chip in your child’s arm is a lot better way to keep tabs on her/him than a GPS-enabled cell phone anyway.

Then there’s airport security. That process would get a lot faster and better if we could rely on information on implanted chips in people’s arms.

You can sense my sarcasm, but many of these uses seem plausible and even desirable from a certain point of view.

But what starts out as a well-meaning use of available technology becomes something that can very quickly be exploited and abused. Now all this might potentially be workable if the Congress, the courts and the executive branch could institute very strict safeguards to prevent the wrongful exploitation of such a system or its expansion beyond very limited purposes.

Unfortunately, we have a government that rather than protecting individual rights and privacy is doing the opposite: aggressively eroding personal privacy and civil liberties as quickly as you can say, “What Fourth Amendment?” And it aggressively seeks to quash any oversight or criticism of its actions with “national security” as the catch-all justification.

The US Supreme Court, especially with the recent Roberts and Alito appointments appears to be largely rubber-stamping the consolidation of abusive federal authority. Scalia in particular is the most unprincipled hypocrite in recent memory on The Court. A self-professed “strict constructionist,” Scalia should be pursuing “The Founders'” interest in individual rights against the abuses of a centralized authority. Instead, he’s the Bush Administration’s “yes-man” regardless of the issue. Thomas is right behind (get it?).

If it were before them today, I think there’s no question these guys would have clearly authorized Korematsu v. United States, the decision that cleared the way for the internment of US citizens of ethnic Japanese origin in relocation camps in 1944.

“Pressing public necessity” in time of war was the justification for this shameful episode. We are now in the “War Against Terror,” a war without end that can be invoked as needed by the government to justify a range of otherwise intolerable or, indeed, illegal behavior (e.g., domestic spying, wiretapping).

In the recent US Supreme Court decision Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (pdf of opinion), which struck down the Bush administration’s plan to try Guantanamo detainees before military tribunals, Thomas issued a shrill dissent to the decision. One of the central points of his argument was that The Court had “disregard[ed] the commander-in-chief’s wartime decisions…”

Before I go too far down this path, the point is that we should be mindful of such lessons of history and not think we have evolved as a culture beyond them. We haven’t. More importantly, we shouldn’t assume our government will do the right (as in correct, ethical) thing. Rather than considering the “public good,” the system is now set up to yield the greatest benefit to those that have the greatest financial interest in any particular outcome.

As many before me have argued, technological development is very much a mixed blessing. Technology was viewed in the 1950s and 1960s as liberating us and creating more leisure time. It has done the opposite: made us more productive but enabled us to work more and harder. How many of you are just working all the time because technology makes it possible?

Privacy in our society is effectively gone. What we have in its place are tenuous (and limited) legal protections for our medical and financial information. That’s not a reason not to still be vigilant about individual privacy, however. We need to think very carefully about the implications of technology and how its potential uses (and abuses) may play out over time. Implantable microchips is just one instance of this dilemma.

And unfortunately, we must take individual responsibility and have informed opinions about these issues — and be vocal about our concerns. We can’t defer to politicians who say, “Trust us, this won’t be abused.” Because they will be the first to abuse it.

Google Checkout, Click Fraud and PR

July 10, 2006

Go to Google Home

This is a precarious time for Google. Sure, it seems to be opening up an even bigger lead in search. But it has also started to suffer something of a backlash among “insiders.” The public is largely unaware of all the drama: “Google is too powerful,” “Google is the Microsoft of the Internet,” “Run for your lives!”

Putting aside the competitive animus of certain rivals and would-be rivals, the concerns about Google surround questions of privacy, security and general consumer trust.

When company representatives say things like they won’t use consumer data collected from products like Google Checkout to affect search results or sponsored results — or otherwise use it mproperly — the question is: Do consumers (we) believe them?

This has reared its head recently with Google’s joint WiFi initiative with Earthlink. Google was asked to respond to privacy concerns raised by EPIC, EFF and the ACLU. While these organizations might have generically raised privacy if some other vendor was working on the project, the fact that one of the partners is Google raises a higher level of concern among some people.

I typically encounter skepticism bordering on outright sarcasm from Internet “insiders” when I report what Google has told me on this or that occasion during a briefing regarding their safeguarding of consumer privacy. There’s a danger that over time these skeptical attitudes will seep out into the popular mind and come back to “bite Google on the ass” (as some would say).

Microsoft’s former “e-wallet” initiative, similar to Google Checkout, under the aegis of Passport, was doomed by privacy and security fears. (Passport is now one of the sources of demographic information for adCenter.)

When I talk to Google media relations folks I often say, “You’re aware of the concern about privacy and some of the skepticism because of Google’s market position . . .?” The answer, to the extent we go down this path is “yes.” But I’m not sure there’s a complete understanding of the implications.

Google has been lax (so has Yahoo!) in communicating about click fraud and has gotten sued and criticized by advertisers and the press about not being “transparent” about its efforts to combat the problem and specifics related to its click fraud enforcement or refund policies. I have argued for a very long time (or what feels that way now) that Google, Yahoo!, MSN, et al needed to get out in front of the question of click fraud, be very open and mount a PR campaign that reassures advertisers.

Now comes a widely covered Outsell report that says: 1) it’s a huge ($800 mm) problem, 2) it’s widespread and 3) advertisers are reducing their paid search spending. Even more striking, 75% of advertisers said they were victims of click fraud.

Perception is reality in this case.

There are potential reasons to doubt some of the findings and conclusions of the report, or at the very least to scrutinize its methodology. To the extent Outsell was asking marketers largely about their perceptions and intentions (which it appears from the coverage they were) the reported findings could be very different from the underlying reality. However, the Outsell report does indicate an average click fraud rate of 14.6%, which seems to be higher but generally consistent with Click Forensics’ Click Fraud Index (13.7% on average).

I don’t believe the reality of click fraud is as stark as some of the findings of the Outsell document or some of the recent inflammatory coverage on the issue. My point is that there’s a perception problem now that might not have existed if Google, Yahoo! and others had been more proactive on the PR front. There’s now a sense among some people that these companies may be hiding something.

Back to Google Checkout.

My belief is that Google must assure the public that using Checkout is completely secure and that any information will not be exploited by the company. This could and should be part of a marketing effort to promote the product. However, if Google takes its usual “if the spaghetti sticks” approach (survival of the fittest products) Checkout may not get the reception it needs – and bad PR or inflated privacy concerns that take hold in consumers minds and could potentially fatally impact the product.

I’m not trying to be alarmist, I’m just pointing out that one must have a clear perception of the way the world sees you and respond or react accordingly. Google must be mindful of the wariness and growing concern surrounding its increasing dominance of search and not take its partners’ or users’ good will for granted.


Related: Google’s CEO’s apparent attitude toward click fraud as a self-correcting problem. That may be a sophisticated economics theory way to regard the problem, but advertisers don’t share that same “sophistication.”

Nefarious New NSA Revelations

May 12, 2006

Perhaps you read the USAToday article about more Bush Administration domestic spying — just the most recent in an ongoing string of revelations — and an attempt to create a database of domestic calling patterns by ordinary Americans? Apparently this was (and is) being done with the willing participation of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. Rather than me telling you that this is just the latest in a series of dangerous, illegal acts by the Bush Administration that violates the US Constitution, I'll point you to Harvard's Rebecca MacKinnon who has a very thoughtful and important post on the subject.

And then there's this from the Boston Globe:

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

And following from that article, here's an excerpt from the NY Times' (which owns the Globe) recent editorial (sub. req'd) on the subject:

President Bush doesn't bother with vetoes; he simply declares his intention not to enforce anything he dislikes. Charlie Savage at The Globe reported recently that Mr. Bush had issued more than 750 ''presidential signing statements'' declaring he wouldn't do what the laws required. Perhaps the most infamous was the one in which he stated that he did not really feel bound by the Congressional ban on the torture of prisoners.

The US is basically in an unrecognized Constitutional crisis right now that far exceeds the gravity and scope of what went on when Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. In fact, how is the Bush Administration's blocking of a Justice Department investigation into the illegal wiretapping any different? It's not.

The difference between then and now is that people are confused, numb and weary today. There's also a casual indifference to political events among people I know who are doing well in their lives. As long as they're making money things are basically okay. I'm saying they're not okay and we all better start paying attention — and speaking out.

When the US president feels he can simply violate or disregard portions of laws — or the US Contitution — with which he doesn't agree — with impunity — we are entering a very dangerous time. Our collective lack of outrage over this only emboldens the administration to continue to do so.

In her post above, MacKinnon compares the US and China and points out that the US is still different than the dictatorship in Beijing, where people are routinely jailed for defying or speaking out against the government. Such freedoms we take for granted in this country — but for how much longer? We are very close to reviving "sedition" as a crime. Past sedition laws in the US have made it criminal to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials.

Over the past several years, I and some of my friends have made jokes about our anti-government remarks on the phone being captured and cataloged, for example when we'd hear "clicks" on the line. As it turns out such jokes may not have been so outrageous after all.

Each day we fail to object to the Bush Administration's illegal activities and abuses of power; and the more, through complacency, fear or indifference, we as a society tolerate government activities like domestic spying, the more we become like China the dictatorship.


Related: More coverage on the scandal and the spying from CNET and the SJ Mercury News.

The reporting and revelations I allude to above are all from journalists (and newspapers here), not TV and not "citizen journalism." Say what you will about the state of press independence in the US (and it has been dismal during this administration) we still need newspapers to help keep the society open and transparent. This is why there's so much at stake in newspapers figuring out how to make money online so they don't lay off everyone in the newsroom.

I talk to lots of newspaper reporters and things are quite bleak even at some of the top publications. But the health of the society requires the existence of an independent media that isn't simply concerned with entertaining and titillating audiences, which is what TV is now exclusively about. If newspapers go down we all lose.

‘Local’ Search on

April 23, 2006

Search the word "Local" on MSFT's and what do you get?


. . . In that order. is the seventh result. (It's the second paid result.) Depending on how one looks at this, one could either praise or criticize Microsoft.

And there's something even more interesting going on. Undoubtedly this has already been written about but I just noticed it: has developed a new twist on "metasearch." The "search within this site" feature allows users to search Google or Yahoo or any other site and stay within the environment. Here, for example, is a search for "best chinese food in new york" on Yahoo! Local — within!

Once you click the search result you go to the content page. Otherwise, all results are within the "frame." Miscrosft could take this a step further with "site preview" functionality such as Ask's Binoculars Site Preview or Browster. That way entire pages (and all their content) could be previewed without leaving (There are hypothetical legal issues here that have yet to be addressed.)

At this stage of the game, this "search within results" feature is a power-user tool to be sure. And Google is testing something similar: "expandable search results." But it's interesting to see Microsft experimenting with some new interface and user experience approaches to search. The search results of tomorrow, especially in Local, will look very different than today.


Related: LiveDrive, offering users nearly unlimited storage, is on the way from Miscrosoft. And it may arrive before Google's rumored GDrive. Privacy concerns notwithstanding (which are considerable), these initiatives are pretty interesting. Can Y!Drive be far behind? 🙂 

Privacy, AT&T and the NSA

April 17, 2006

There have been lots of articles recently about whether the Bush Administration has been given access to the whole AT&T system (online and telephone). Here's the latest and it's very ugly. I have refrained from commenting on this. But it infuriates me.

Bush's domestic spying program is illegal despite his Attorney General's contrary assertions and those of his apologists in Congress. (It's also an impeachable offense according to many legal authorities.) Americans should be really irate over this, because it's worthy of Stalinist Russia or other nasty dictatorships.

Would you want the US government monitoring your email, telephone conversations and keeping track of the websites you visited? That's exactly what's going on or what the NSA has the capacity to do:

"It appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet, whether that be people's e-mail, Web surfing or any other data," whistle-blower Mark Klein, who worked for the company for 22 years, said in a statement released by his lawyers.

If people don't get upset about this sort of thing it will not only continue, it will get worse.

Personalization and Privacy

April 4, 2006

Bob Tedeschi of the NYTimes (reg. req'd) has an interesting piece on Claria, which is betting the farm on personalization (and contextually relevant ads):

"Claria said it would announce Monday the release of PersonalWeb, a service that will let people download a piece of tracking software and receive a home page filled with news stories and other information tailored to their interests. If a man, for example, downloaded the software and surfed through stories about the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament and car reviews, his PersonalWeb home page would reflect those interests the next time he clicked to it. In addition to showing newer headlines about cars and college basketball, the page might also feature ads from car companies or for jerseys from the man's favorite team."

Later in the piece, he cites comScore data showing relatively few people have personalized home pages: According to ComScore MediaMetrix . . . 14 percent of Yahoo's 27 million visitors in February had a customized home page, and Yahoo's service was by far the most popular of its kind."

People are going to be wary of Claria's efforts — partly because of the company's legacy and partly because we're living in a time of heightened sensitivity to privacy issues — unless it goes to extraordinary lengths to reassure users about privacy. But its general approach, which is more about "passive" than "active" personalization (e.g., MyYahoo) is going to generally be more successful since people aren't typically going to go to the effort unless there's a very clear benefit to them. (People are lazy.) :)The other problem is the software download component of the program, which will dminish its viability.

Clearly users want relevant content and the more relevant the advertising, the less it looks like advertising and the more it looks like content. That's been the "genius" of search (and Yellow Pages before it). But more and more we're going to see advertising alternatives to paid search as click costs rise in the "head" and as marketers seek more exposure and more opportunities to connect with consumers, even as it becomes harder and harder to reach them.