Internet Security

The case against behavioral advertising is stacking up

No one likes being stalked around the Internet by adverts. It’s the uneasy joke you can’t enjoy laughing at. Yet vast people-profiling ad businesses have made pots of money off of an unregulated Internet by putting surveillance at their core. But what if creepy ads don’t work as claimed? What if all the filthy lucre…


No one likes being stalked around the Internet by adverts. It’s the uneasy joke you can’t enjoy laughing at. Yet vast people-profiling ad businesses have made pots of money off of an unregulated Internet by putting surveillance at their core.

But what if creepy ads don’t work as claimed? What if all the filthy lucre that’s currently being sunk into the coffers of ad tech giants — and far less visible but no less privacy-trampling data brokers — is literally being sunk, and could both be more honestly and far better spent?

Case in point: This week Digiday reported thatthe New York Timesmanaged to grow its ad revenue after it cut off ad exchanges in Europe. The newspaper did this in order to comply with the region’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, which includes a regime of supersized maximum fines.

The newspaper business decided it simply didn’t want to take the risk, so first blocked all open-exchange ad buying on its European pages and then nixed behavioral targeting. The result? A significant uptick in ad revenue, according to Digiday’s report.

“NYT International focused on contextual and geographical targeting for programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals and has not seen ad revenues drop as a result, according to Jean-Christophe Demarta, SVP for global advertising at New York Times International,” it writes.

“Currently, all the ads running on European pages are direct-sold. Although the publisher doesn’t break out exact revenues for Europe, Demarta said that digital advertising revenue has increased significantly since last May and that has continued into early 2019.”

It also quotes Demarta summing up the learnings: “The desirability of a brand may be stronger than the targeting capabilities. We have not been impacted from a revenue standpoint, and, on the contrary, our digital advertising business continues to grow nicely.”

So while (of course) not every publisher is the NYT, publishers that have or can build brand cachet, and pull in a community of engaged readers, must and should pause for thought — and ask who is the real winner from the notion that digitally served ads must creep on consumers to work?

The NYT’s experience puts fresh taint on long-running efforts by tech giants like Facebook to press publishers to give up more control and ownership of their audiences by serving and even producing content directly for the third party platforms. (Pivot to video anyone?)

Such efforts benefit platforms because they get to make media businesses dance to their tune. But the self-serving nature of pulling publishers away from their own distribution channels (and content convictions) looks to have an even more bass string to its bow — as a cynical means of weakening the link between publishers and their audiences, thereby risking making them falsely reliant on adtech intermediaries squatting in the middle of the value chain.

There are other signs behavioural advertising might be a gigantically self-serving con too.

Look at non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo,for instance, which has been making a profit by serving keyword-based ads and not profiling users since 2014, all the while continuing to grow usage — and doing so in a market that’s dominated by search giant Google.

DDG recently took in $10M in VC funding from a pension fund that believes there’s an inflection point in the online privacy story. These investors are also displaying strong conviction in the soundness of the underlying (non-creepy) ad business, again despite the overbearing presence of Google.

Meanwhile, Internet users continue to express wid

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Internet Security

Can predictive analytics be made safe for humans?

Massive-scale predictive analytics is a relatively new phenomenon, one that challenges both decades of law as well as consumer thinking about privacy. As a technology, it may well save thousands of lives in applications like predictive medicine, but if it isn’t used carefully, it may prevent thousands from getting loans, for instance, if an underwriting…


Massive-scale predictive analyticsis a relatively new phenomenon, one that challenges both decades of law as well as consumer thinking about privacy.

As a technology, it may well save thousands of lives in applications like predictive medicine, but if it isn’t used carefully, it may prevent thousands from getting loans, for instance, if an underwriting algorithm is biased against certain users.

I chatted with Dennis Hirsch a few weeks ago about the challenges posed by this new data economy. Hirsch is a professor of law at Ohio State and head of its Program on Data and Governance. He’s also affiliated with the university’s Risk Institute.

“Data ethics is the new form of risk mitigation for the algorithmic economy,” he said. In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, every company has to assess what data it has on its customers and mitigate the risk of harm. How to do that, though, is at the cutting edge of the new field of data governance, which investigates the processes and policies through which organizations manage their data.

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“Traditional privacy regulation asks whether you gave someone notice and given them a choice,” he explains. That principle is the bedrock for Europe’s GDPR law, and for the patchwork of laws in the U.S. that protect privacy. It’s based around the simplistic idea that a datum — such as a customer’s address — shouldn’t be shared with, say, a marketer without that user’s knowledge. Privacy is about protecting the address book, so to speak.

The rise of “predictive analytics,” though, has completely demolished such privacy legislation. Predictive analytics is a fuzzy term, but essentially means interpreting raw data and drawing new conclusions through inference. This is the story of the famous Target data crisis, where the retailer recommended pregnancy-related goods to women who had certain patterns of purchases. As Charles Duhigg explained at the time:

Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to

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Internet Security

Atrium, Justin Kan’s legal tech startup, launches a fintech and blockchain division

Atrium, the legal startup co-founded by Justin Kan of Twitch fame, is jumping into the blockchain space today. The company has raised plenty of money — including $65 million from a16z last September — so rather than an ICO or token sale, this is a consultancy business. Atrium uses machine learning to digitize legal documents and develop applications…


Atrium, the legal startup co-founded by Justin Kan of Twitch fame, is jumping into the blockchain space today.

The company has raised plenty of money — including $65 million from a16z last September — so rather than an ICO or token sale, this is a consultancy business. Atrium uses machine learning to digitize legal documents and develop applications for client use, and now it is officially applying that to fintech and blockchain businesses.

The division has been operating quietly for months and the scope of work that it covers includes the legality and regulatory concerns around tokens, but also business-focused areas including token utility, tokenomics and general blockchain tech.

“We have a bunch of clients wanting to do token offerings and looking into the legality,” Kan told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of our advisory work is around the token offering and how it operates.”

The commitment is such that the company is even accepting Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash for payments through crypto processing service BitPay.

While the ICO market has quietened over the past year following huge valuation losses market-wide, up to 90 percent in some cases with many ICO tokens now effectively worthless, there’s a new antic

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Internet Security

OpenAI built a text generator so good, it’s considered too dangerous to release

A storm is brewing over a new language model, built by non-profit artificial intelligence research company OpenAI, which it says is so good at generating convincing, well-written text that it’s worried about potential abuse. That’s angered some in the community, who have accused the company of reneging on a promise not to close off its…


A storm is brewing over a new language model, built by non-profit artificial intelligence research company OpenAI,which it says is so good at generating convincing, well-written text that it’s worried about potential abuse.

That’s angered some in the community, who have accused the company of reneging on a promise not to close off its research.

OpenAI said its new natural language model, GPT-2, was trained to predict the next word in a sample of 40 gigabytes of internet text. The end result was the system generating text that “adapts to the style and content of the conditioning text,” allowing the user to “generate realistic and coherent continuations about a topic of their choosing.” The model is a vast improvement on the first version by producing longer text with greater coherence.

But with every good application of the system, such as bots capable of better dialog and better speech recognition, the non-profit found several more, like generating fake news, impersonating people, or automating abusive or spam comments on social media.

To wit: when GPT-2 was tasked with writing a response to the prompt, “Recycling is good for the world, no, you could no

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Internet Security

LG hints at gesture interface for smartphone flagship next month

LG has put out a gesture-heavy hint ahead of the annual unveiling of new smartphone hardware at the world’s biggest mobile confab, Mobile World Congress, which kicks off in a month’s time. The brief video teaser for its forthcoming MWC press event in Barcelona, which was shared today via LG’s social media channels, shows a…


LGhas put out a gesture-heavy hint ahead of the annual unveiling of new smartphone hardware at the world’s biggest mobile confab, Mobile World Congress, which kicks off in a month’s time.

The brief video teaser for its forthcoming MWC press event in Barcelona, which was shared today via LG’s social media channels, shows a man’s hand swiping to change on-screen content, including the message “goodbye touch.”

The title of LG’s teaser video includes the name “LG Premiere,” which could be the name of the forthcoming flagship — albeit that would be confusingly similar to the mid-tier LG Premier of yore. So, hopefully the company is going to make that last ‘e’ really count.

Beyond some very unsubtle magic wand sound effects to draw extra attention to the contactless gestures, the video offers very little to go on. But we’reprettysureLG is not about to pivot away from touchscreens entirely.

Rather, we’re betting on some sort

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