Don Marti

Fri 27 Dec 2013 08:13:32 AM PST

Surveillance marketing meets sales norms

Where does the surveillance-marketing complex get all these wonderful ideas?

A little while ago we had the follow people through stores startup, and now there's a company that wants to keep track of your stuff in your house.

Adaptly CEO Nikhil Sethi, in The Future of Advertising Hinges on Understanding Identity:

Imagine that after continual usage, your fridge begins to understand what foods you consume and when. It then can make sure you have a full stock of the products you like. At the same time, these interconnected fridges are able to tell broader organizations what kind of local demand exists for certain produce, making sure the right deliveries are scheduled accordingly.

Or better yet, the count of cold beers in that fridge went down from 12 to 1, and the user is home alone web surfing. How much would an advertiser pay for that information?

Or, Let's introduce our new product to people who buy ice cream and never even put it in the fridge. People who take it straight from car trunk to couch to recycle bin.

Sethi writes, A clear value exchange to the consumer will be important for ads to move from the creepy factor to the wow factor.

But that's the problem. There is no valley of creepiness to get through. One-sided information just keeps getting creepier and creepier the more one-sided it is.

Connecting with the consumer?

You know the "consumer" side of me? The slothful, covetous, money-wasting side of my personality? The one who wants to buy some new shiny object, then play with it for a half hour and just leave it to clutter up the place?

I hope you haven't met him. If you're trying to sell me something, I don't want to let him talk to you.

Don Corleone said to Sonny, Santino, never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking. And when I face down the marketing-surveillance complex, which side of me gets to do the talking? That's right. The Hmm, that's an interesting concept but I think I can fulfil that need with my existing devices side, not the NEW SHINY THING ME WANT side.

So, Internet of Things and Targeted Advertising are both hot concepts, but combining them? If it doesn't work, it's just a privacy hole for no benefit. If it does work, that's even worse. It would go around the public business personality to the private, stuff-handling personality.


Somehow the industry needs to learn norms about selling things to people, not just technological possibilities.


Fuller Brush Man comic

I had an interesting conversation with a California resident a few days ago. A door-to-door sales rep had just come by, and as soon as he left, she called the police. The non-emergency police number, but still.

It turns out that other people in the neighborhood had also called. We've gone from a society in which door-to-door sales was totally normal, even the subject of underground NSFW comics, to something that regular people call the police about.

So where are we with web ad targeting?

Well, just like everything else in the IT business, at every level from hardware random number generators all the way up to cloud computing contracts, there's a Snowden document for that. It turns out that the NSA uses Google cookies, so you can't really split the surveillance-marketing complex, much as some people would like to.

Bruce Schneier says, There are a lot of technical things we can do. The goal is to make eavesdropping expensive. That's the way to think about this, is to force the NSA to abandon wholesale collection in favor of targeted collection of information.

We can't fix half of the privacy problem. There's no way to be secure in your persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures from the government, while at the same time giving up your personal info to the marketing side. Because the government can just get the marketing data. Even if they have to threaten to close some of the tax loopholes that the Internet companies use, they'll get it.

Or worse. Somebody else's government will.

Yes, people are going to get post-Snowden privacy tools. (Disconnect Search is my favorite.) But fixing privacy is actually going to be good for business. Details in Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful.

Bonus links

Why Mozilla Was Right: GCHQ & NSA Track Cookies

Martin Fowler: Bliki: Datensparsamkeit