Let big data benefit consumers, not marketers
In the movie "Gosford Park," Helen Mirren's housekeeper character Mrs. Wilson says that what separates good servants from the others is "the gift of anticipation." Servants must know what the people they serve want before the people know it themselves.
That's how technology should work. That's how big data could work in connecting us with the companies that provide the goods and services we want. Right now, what gets in the way is marketing. In the big-data world, marketing serves no useful purpose. That's what Doc Searles suggests in a long read on Art + Marketing. Searles claims we are now entering the "post-marketing era."
Post-marketing occurs when "connected individuals in markets do more for their suppliers than marketing alone has ever been able to do," according to Searles. Once people figure out they are being taken for a ride by giving up valuable personal data with little in return, they'll block as many ads as they can. Already, users of ad-blocking tools constitute "the largest boycott in world history."
Pro-ad service PageFair reports that more than 300 million people block ads on their mobile devices, and 220 million block ads in their browsers. Searles claims a principal reason people are using ad blockers is that they don't like "being tracked like animals."
Still, Searles isn't ready to write off marketing entirely. He believes the industry will adapt to the big-data era by presenting themselves to individuals as servants rather than as manipulators. I'm no so optimistic about advertisers' ability to treat consumers with respect. Old habits die hard, and marketers are adept at manipulating the masses.
Ad networks claim data collection and reuse is protected as 'free speech'
The April 6, 2016, Weekly described new FCC regulations requiring ISPs to get their customers' explicit permission before being allowed to collect and share the customers' personal information. Now the advertising industry is lobbying the FCC to reverse the decision to implement the new rules, as Wendy Davis reports on MediaPost.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau and several other ad-industry associations are repeating the argument they made when the opt-in requirement was first approved last spring: the requirement violates their free speech rights. Advertisers claim the "creation, analysis, and transfer of consumer data for marketing purposes constitutes speech," and as such, it is protected under the First Amendment as "non-misleading commercial speech."
The ad industry claims the privacy rules fail to protect consumers from any specific harm, and claims of theoretical harms have been ruled by courts as an insufficient basis for restricting commercial speech. The CTIA, which lobbies for ISPs (and no longer bothers to explain what the acronym "CTIA" stands for), goes even further by claiming the personal data collected by internet services isn't sensitive, as Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin reports in a March 17, 2017, article.
Even if the invasive consumer tracking conducted by ad networks weren't deemed commercial speech, there is little chance the opt-in requirement for ISP data collection will survive the Republican assault. New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is against the regulations, and Republicans in Congress are preparing to "scrap the rules" under the 1996 Congressional Review Act that gives Congress the power to rescind recent agency regulations.
Score another win for the corporate overlords. Just in case you're wondering, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jeremy Gillula describes in a March 19, 2017, article "five creepy things" your ISP can do if Congress repeals the FCC's privacy rules.
New Google policies let advertisers control where their ads appear, sort of
When you buy ad space with Google, you don't know where your ads will show up. For the UK government and other advertisers, this means their ads appear alongside extremist content. In response, these advertisers have stopped purchasing Google ads, as Ars Technica's Valentina Palladino writes in a March 21, 2017, article.
Now Google has decided to give advertisers more control over the sites on which their ads will appear on YouTube and the Google Display Network. Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler claims in a post on the Google blog that the company will emphasize stopping hate speech. First, it will "demonetize" hateful content by removing all ads from those pages, according to Schindler.
In addition, Google will place ads only with "creators in its YouTube Partners Program," and will reconsider its content guidelines to "determine what content is allowed on the platform," according to Schindler. Palladino points out that the new rules will likely cause confusion and consternation for the people who make their living from YouTube videos.
I continue to believe YouTube is a cesspool with the charm of a local town dump on the hottest afternoon of the summer. But that's just me.
Google served with warrant to name searchers: Speaking of the Evil-doing Empire, a judge in Minnesota has ordered Google to hand over the names of everyone who searched for one of four variations of a fraud victim's name, as the Guardian's Alex Hern reports in a March 20, 2017, article.
Someone attempted to use a fake passport bearing the victim's name and photo to complete a fraudulent wire transfer. The prosecutors determined that the criminal searched for the person's photo on Google, not Bing, Yahoo, or another search service. Judge Gary Larson is demanding that Google turn over to the court data about everyone who searched for the name between December 1, 2016, and January 7, 2017.
The data the court wants includes "names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, IP addresses and account information" for all such searchers. As Hern points out, the warrant applies to everyone in the world who might have entered the name in the Google search box, not just those in the area of Edina, MN, where the crime occurred. Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Andrew Crocker jokes that the case should be renamed "In re Minnesota Unconstitutional General Warrant."
Opposing viewpoints on what to do with all this personal data: Any reference to a "post-privacy" era gives me the willies. I'm not ready to throw in the privacy towel, and neither are a lot of people who are cautious about the private information they share and who they share it with.
At the same time, there's no denying the potential benefits to individuals and society of constructive use of data about people, in the general, and in the specific. Amy Webb's book review in the March 15, 2017, New York Times covers both sides of the data-privacy debate.
In this corner, Andreas Weigend's Data for the People wants to show "How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You." Weigend is the former chief scientist at Amazon; he believes people should give their personal information away for free, but they should expect transparency about the data collection so consumers know what information they're giving up, and who they're giving it up to.
And in the other corner, Kevin D. Mitnick and Robert Vamosi argue in The Art of Invisibility that there are many good reasons for people to restrict the collection and reuse of their private data by government and private entities. Mitnick promotes the usual privacy solutions: strong passwords, encryption, VPN, and digital currencies.
Webb writes that both Weigend and Mitnick focus on consumer awareness, but a greater threat is posed by cumulative algorithm bias. The data scientists who tweak the algorithms written to make sense of the data implant their inherent cultural/societal biases in the programs. Each iteration magnifies the biases in the name of improved accuracy. According to Webb, steps have to be taken now to prevent "algorithm discrimination." As with big-data use, the first step is transparency about how the algorithms work.
Tracking the surge in hate crimes: For many years, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch has chronicled the crimes of anti-semites, white supremacists, anti-LGBT, and other Republicans (I kid). Since last November's election, Pro Publica has recorded what some analysts have called a spike in hate crimes around the world.
Pro Publica's hate-crime scorecard is an extension of the November 15, 2016, article Hate Crimes Are Up -- But the Government Isn't Keeping Good Track of Them. I couldn't find any source indicating hate crimes are occurring more frequently in recent months. Any hate crime is too many hate crimes. Ensuring the hate-crime perpetrators are arrested and brought to justice requires paying attention to what's happening in communities throughout the U.S. and across the globe.
According to Pro Publica's hate-crime log, the two most prominent signs of hate appearing lately are the swastika, and various forms of "Get out of America." Just as a reminder, the Nazis were cold-blooded murderers who perpetrated genocide, and the United States welcomes everybody. Those are two points that bear repeating as often as necessary.
Could there possibly be an upside to this political circus? Yes, according to the Nation's Daniel Cantor and Barbara Dudley in a March 21, 2017, article. The man occupying the White House is inarguably inept and possibly a lunatic. I am one of the many people who refuse to recognize him as legitimate. Yet the takeover of our democracy started decades ago, according to Cantor and Dudley.
The Rough Beast is merely a symptom of the worldwide realignment now underway, the authors claim. To ensure the 21st century economy is driven by "good" jobs, workers have to band together to rebuild society's physical, financial, and virtual infrastructures. The authors promote a non-profit organization called Working Families, which at present appears to be most active in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Any group that supports workers joining together to benefit workers has my support.
What do Norwegians have to be happy about? I was having a great day until I read the 2017 edition of the World's Happiness Report. It wasn't the fact that the U.S. is ranked the 14th happiest place on the planet. What brought me down was realizing that the people living in all those other countries are even less happy than we are. Misery has plenty of company.
Following Norway at the top of the happiness roster are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and (tied) Australia and Sweden. What do the happiest places on earth have in common? According to the Huffington Post's David Macaray in a March 20, 2017, article, "high taxes, national health care, universal education (including college), and free services."
What the contented nations lack is any sense of "every man for himself." Instead, their cultures are inculcated with collectivism. Macaray points out one other significant difference between the collective mentality and rugged individualism: The former considers a free college education an "investment" in the future for everyone, while the latter deems college attendance a "privilege."
As Macaray points out, if Jesus were to return, he'd be a socialist.