The Data Bubble

The tide turned today. Mark it: 31 July 2010. bubble

That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. It has ten links to other sections of today’s report.

It’s pretty freaking amazing — and amazingly freaky when you dig down to the business assumptions behind it. Here is the rest of the list (sans one that goes to a link-proof Flash thing):

Here’s the gist:

The Journal conducted a comprehensive study that assesses and analyzes the broad array of cookies and other surveillance technology that companies are deploying on Internet users. It reveals that the tracking of consumers has grown both far more pervasive and far more intrusive than is realized by all but a handful of people in the vanguard of the industry.

It gets worse:

In between the Internet user and the advertiser, the Journal identified more than 100 middlemen—tracking companies, data brokers and advertising networks—competing to meet the growing demand for data on individual behavior and interests.The data on Ms. Hayes-Beaty’s film-watching habits, for instance, is being offered to advertisers on BlueKai Inc., one of the new data exchanges. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” says Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.” The Journal examined the 50 most popular U.S. websites, which account for about 40% of the Web pages viewed by Americans. (The Journal also tested its own site, It then analyzed the tracking files and programs these sites downloaded onto a test computer. As a group, the top 50 sites placed 3,180 tracking files in total on the Journal’s test computer. Nearly a third of these were innocuous, deployed to remember the password to a favorite site or tally most-popular articles. But over two-thirds—2,224—were installed by 131 companies, many of which are in the business of tracking Web users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold.

Here’s what’s delusional about all this: There is no demand for tracking by individual customers. All the demand comes from advertisers — or from companies selling to advertisers. For now.

Here is the difference between an advertiser and an ordinary company just trying to sell stuff to customers: nothing. If a better way to sell stuff comes along — especially if customers like it better than this crap the Journal is reporting on — advertising is in trouble.

Here is the difference between an active customer who wants to buy stuff and a consumer targeted by secretive tracking bullshit: everything.

Two things are going to happen here. One is that we’ll stop putting up with it. The other is that we’ll find better ways for demand and supply to meet — ways that don’t involve tracking or the guesswork called advertising.

Improving a pain in the ass doesn’t make it a kiss. The frontier here is on the demand side, not the supply side.

Advertising may pay for lots of great stuff (such as search) that we take for granted, but advertising even at its best is guesswork. It flourishes in the absence of more efficient and direct demand-supply interactions.

The idea of making advertising perfectly personal has been a holy grail of the business since Day Alpha. Now that Day Omega is approaching, thanks to creepy shit like this, the advertising business is going to crash up against a harsh fact: “consumers” are real people, and most real people are creeped out by this stuff.

Rough impersonal guesswork is tolerable. Totally personalized guesswork is not.

Trust me, if I had exposed every possible action in my life this past week, including every word I wrote, every click I made, everything I ate and smelled and heard and looked at, the guesswork engine has not been built that can tell any seller the next thing I’ll actually want. (Even Amazon, widely regarded as the best at this stuff, sucks to some degree.)

Meanwhile, I have money ready to spend on about eight things, right now, that I’d be glad to let the right sellers know, provided that information is confined to my relationship with those sellers, and that it doesn’t feed into anybody’s guesswork mill. I’m ready to share that information on exactly those conditions.

Tools to do that will be far more leveraged in the ready-to-spend economy than any guesswork system. (And we’re working on those tools.) Chris Locke put it best in Cluetrain eleven years ago. He said, if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get… A picture named not.gif

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal, that dealing may finally come in 2010.

To get started, I highly recommend installing TACO, the Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out, or its fork, Beef TACO. There are other approaches, but these work for me.

What matters is that they show you at least some of the tracking activity that’s going on. And a little knowledge is better than none. (You can also block tracking as well.)

Meanwhile, this gives us more to talk about (and work on) at VRM+CRM 2010. Bonus barf. I don’t think we need legislation here (it’s too early and sure to have bad unintended consequences), but I also don’t think the Internet Advertising Bureau is operating in Reality.

[Later…] Jeff Jarvis thinks the Journal is being silly. I love Jeff, and I agree that the Journal may be blurring some concerns, off-base on some of the tech (see comments below) and even a bit breathless; but I also think they’re on to something, and I’m glad they’re on it.

Most people don’t know how much they’re being followed, and I think what the Journal’s doing here really does mark a turning point.

I also think, as I said, that the deeper story is the market for advertising, which is actually threatened by absolute personalization. (The future market for real engagement, however, is enormous. But that’s a different business than advertising — and it’s no less thick with data… just data that’s voluntarily shared with trusted limits to use by others.)

[Later still…] TechCrunch had some fun throwing Eric Clemons and Danny Sullivan together. Steel Cage Debate On The Future Of Online Advertising: Danny Sullivan Vs. Eric Clemons, says the headline. Eric’s original is Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet. Danny’s reply is at that first link. As you might guess, I lean toward Eric on this one. But this post is a kind of corollary to Eric’s case, which is compressed here (at the first link again):

I stand by my earlier points:

  • Users don’t trust ads
  • Users don’t want to view ads
  • Users don’t need ads
  • Ads cannot be the sole source of funding for the internet
  • Ad revenue will diminish because of brutal competition brought on by an oversupply of inventory, and it will be replaced in many instances by micropayments and subscription payments for content.
  • There are numerous other business models that will work on the net, that will be tried, and that will succeed.

The last point, actually, seemed to be the most important.  It was really the intent of the article, and the original title was “Business Models for Monetizing the Internet:  Surely There Must Be Something Other Than Advertising.”  This point got lost in the fury over the title of the article and in rage over the idea that online advertising might lose its importance.

My case is that advertisers themselves will tire of the guesswork business when something better comes along. Whether or not that “something better” funds Web sites and services is beside the points I am making, though it could hardly be a more important topic.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the Googles of the world are well positioned to take advantage of a new economy in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. So, in fact, are some of those back-end data companies. (Disclosure: I currently consult one of them.)

Look at it this way…

  • What if all that collected data were yours and not just theirs?
  • What if you could improve that data voluntarily?
  • What if there were standard ways you could get that data back, and use it in your own ways?
  • What if those same companies were in the business of helping you buy stuff, and not just helping sellers target you?

Those questions are all on the table now.

52 responses to “The Data Bubble”

  1. I like that TACO tells me what snoopage is happening at a site (or claims to… haven’t installed it yet).

    I was almost put off by the crappy two-star rating on 197 reviews, but the description says that was due to poor performance in earlier versions.

    1. If you look at the back-and-forth between TACO and Beef TACO developers, it’s clear that both are works in progress, across virgin territory.

      My own experience with ratings like these say not to trust them, on the whole. I know apps that were sandbagged early by bad reviews and survived in spite of them. I personally have no problem with TACO or its UI.

  2. You originally pointed me to a link about framing, about choosing the right words to discuss an issue. The problem is that a lot of the discussion of this issue makes the wrong thing into the subject of the sentence. doesn’t “place a tracking file” on your computer. Your browser initiates an HTTP request, and the site you’re looking at, or some third-party service that the site uses, just responds to the request.

    Some of the third-party stuff is CDN —, the alternate domain that Yahoo uses to serve images, is a good example. But most of it just tracks you and slows you down.

    When we think about email spam, it might be right to make the spammer the subject of the sentence. But in this case the (subject) site (verb) tracks (object) user is counterproductive, and doesn’t discuss the important role of the browser or its default settings.

  3. My only problem with this is that it doesn’t go far enough. Targeting is nothing new. Nothing. We are “targeted” a million different ways, and to limit anti-targeting only on the Web is to miss the point. The selling of data has been going on forever, and if we’re going to do something about it as a culture, we can’t high-five and hand out attaboys over Web resistance without doing something about everything else. Banks are the worst.

  4. TACO is interesting, I’ll give it a try. However, I prefer silently preventing tracking rather than setting an opt-out cookie and trusting the advertiser to comply (don’t know whether TACO also actively prevents tracking).

    On FireFox I recommend:
    0. Browser settings: don’t accept cookies from third parties (sometimes gives problems with certain websites though) and delete all cookies on exit.
    1. BetterPrivacy ( This requires no technical expertise. It removes cookie-alternatives like “Flash cookies” (Local Shared Objects) and DOM storage. I use the setting where it removes everything all the time.
    2. AdBlock Plus ( This requires no technical expertise. It prevents advertisements from being loaded, which also reduces the amount of spying that comes with the ads.
    3. I also use NoScript ( javascript blocking, but that’s not exactly transparent.

    Remaining problems:
    1. I don’t have a good method yet to make my http-headers-signature less unique and constantly varying, would be interested in that.
    2. I don’t use anonymizing proxies, because that’s just another party you have to trust. TOR is too slow.

    I hope this is on topic,


  5. Great article, Doc. And great work by the Wall Street Journal.

    However, I agree with Terry. The problem isn’t targeting per se. It is the unauthorized, hidden transfer of information about individuals without the permission of those individuals.

    I’m also not sure we’re going to get out of this mess without legislation. There is simply too much entrenched money and technology invested in a data architecture that is entirely vendor-driven. Of course, we need to first construct a viable user-driven architecture, but I don’t see us getting out of this alive without federal protections of basic individual rights to privacy. I’m sure we’ll get it wrong or at least partially wrong before we get it right, but without regulation and significant financial and criminal liability for violations, I don’t see corporate America giving up it’s newly found tools for hyper-customized advertising.

  6. Great points, Don and Mathias. I wondered about the framing issues as well, and appreciate the tips. (I do also use AdBlock Plus.)

    Joe, I’m not against legislation in the long run, but think it’s way early for it at this point. As former FCC Chairman Michael Powell once said about his experience talking to congressfolk, “There are two things nearly all of them don’t understand. One is technology and the other is economics. Now proceed.” (That’s not verbatim, but roughly how I remember it.)

  7. […] Searls sees it differently, and with good cause. He thinks “the tide turned” with the publishing of the series, and he may be right. People are frankly tired of […]

  8. Hi Doc – this was a good read.

    Re: the WSJ article, while I agree there were some good points in there I also think it was a biased article. Cookies and privacy is a complicated topic and it is a wrong conclusion to make that cookies are dropped with malicious intent.

    Also, there are countless folks who are willing to give up some of their ‘privacy’ for convenience and increased usability of the site. They actually appreciate the customized suggestions they get – whether it is about a book or about a specific brand of shoes.

    There is also the topic of privacy and security which are two different things and a discussion topic in itself.

    And lastly, you would be amazed at the information people voluntarily give up when they register, take surveys, social network or use sites like Facebook. Essentially whether we like it or not, we are moving towards a world where the boundaries of privacy is constantly changing for various reasons.

    All in all I think what is needed is transparency and education – on what this is all about and what it implies and so in that respect the WSJ article and posts like yours are great as it generates good discussion.


  9. […] (ouch, that stings).  Then,  Doc Searls commented on Jarvis’ blog, but also posted that “there is no demand for tracking by individual customers.  All the demand comes from advertisers – or from companies […]

  10. Ned, I remember when my older son was a hard-core surfer in California. He liked to surf in places like Año Nuevo, where there were plenty of seals, and great white sharks feeding on them. Every once in awhile a surfer would get chomped. (Though fatalities from sharks were very rare.) I asked him once if he would surf there if the water were completely clear and he could actually see the great whites down there. “No way,” he said. Even though he knew they were there.

    I’m under no illusions about how much data is collected, or how. I also believe that the seas are starting to clear, and as more people get more clarity about What’s Going On, two things will happen. One is that tolerance for it will go down. The other is that better systems for buyers and sellers connecting will emerge.

  11. Doc,

    There is a simple answer to this: pay for the web content just like you pay for cable tv. If you want free content, you’ll get what you deserve. I really don’t have much sympathy for you or anyone for that matter.

    Speaking as someone in this industry, I can tell you that I routinely saw 8:1 to 23:1 return on my advertising spend when I incorporated the various technologies that the WSJ bemoans. Frankly, it is your ignorance that makes it “creepy.” There is nothing creepy about it. Do you honestly think that the NSA isn’t able to tap your phone right now? Do you honestly think that Carnivore isn’t caching everything you’ve ever written, every email, every chat, every sms? Give it up. The point is that many of the very technologies that we employ w/in this industry have come from Defense. The fact remains that much of what pretends to be university research owes its funding either directly or indirectly to DARPA. For god’s sake, the Internet itself is one big DARPA project — if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, then you are both blind and dumb.

    Your points are also foolish:

    Users don’t trust ads
    Users don’t need ads
    Ad revenue will diminsh

    What does “trust” have to do with anything? The fact is that advertising helps introduce users to products and services that they will or might find relevant. Everyone is “in market” for something at some point in time. The challenge is to map the correct products and services to the correct consumers at the correct point in time. The better the targeting, the more relevant the ads. The more relevant the ads, the greater their impact. The greater their impact, the fewer that you will need to see. And that means, the more money that can be spent on discounting, promotional pricing, loyalty rewards, product improvement, customer support and the like. Make no mistake, manfucturers don’t want to spend money on ads either. It is very costly. Therefore, the more targeted they can make their commnications, the better it is for BOTH manufacturer and consumers. Targeting, if anything, is a bad thing for advertising in the long run b/c manufacturers will spend less on ads and more on other aspects of their marketing efforts. That said, the ads they do run may become more expensive. However, their over all yield should be greater.

    Thus, users WILL want ads b/c they will be personalized promotions and personalized communications that serve more as content than merely ads. What you are bemoaning is the first phase in the process. We are simply not where we need to be yet. But that is coming. What we will see is a more intelligent, semantically and contextually aware web that uses better machine learning and AI techniques to guide users decision-making. Today we have web that is dumb, cluttered and gamed. Much of the content is crap and the crap to quality ratio is growing exponentially. Why? B/c the scammers have figured out how to game Google and are robo-generating content at an alarming rate. W/out these targeting technologies, you will see search effectiveness go down, and over all user experience across all web sites decrease b/c it will become increasingly difficult to find ANYTHING of value.

    The web *needs* more vectors for discovery other than Twitter, Digg and Google. I’m sorry but we live in an increasingly Global society that cannot rely exlcusively on English as the sole means of engagement. W/out these tracking technologies and data mining approaches, we are helpless grow the web into what could become a quasi-sentient sort of system. A system that ‘understands’ your context, your needs and your requirements. A web that meets you where you are, not asks of you to constrain all your questions into a stupid search box. Google has conned the world into thinking that if you cannot fit your query into a lexical string, that somehow it is unfit to be discovered. Google is crap. Text-search is shitty and Google knows it. The challege is that Google has hypnotized the world into thinking that search is the best/only means by which information is exchanged. That is simply not true. Curiously, it is Google that stands to lose the most from these technologies as they stand to introduce more complex and yet more user friendly and intuitive forms of web interactions. And this threatens their text search franchise. After all, Google has no second act. They can never find a business model that will pay them the margins that they earn on AdWords. Therefore, it is in Google’s best interest to slow down, subvert anyone attempting to help consumers discover relevant, meaningful and financially rewarding content that doesn’t FIRST pass thru their filters.

    Don’t be surprised if Google is helping shape this debate as it would be wise for them to try and hobble their emerging competitors by sweeping them under the growing populist “privacy” rug.

  12. […] » The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets » Cookie Madness! » The Data Bubble […]

  13. Thanks for the comment, Fuman. We’ll see how it goes.

  14. […] The Data Bubble "I also think, as I said, that the deeper story is the market for advertising, which is actually threatened by absolute personalization. (The future market for real engagement, however, is enormous. But that’s a different business than advertising — and it’s no less thick with data… just data that’s voluntarily shared with trusted limits to use by others.)" […]

  15. Javier Gostling Avatar
    Javier Gostling

    You mention “…techniques to guide users decision-making”, and expect people not to creep out? Had you used something along the lines of “empower” or “educate” instead of guide maybe I would not freak out as much, but I certainly don’t want my decision-making process “guided” by corporations, advertisers, etc. Information is always welcome, manipulation on the other hand not so much.

  16. As a European to read about data mining and and privacy issues in the US brings us back a few years.

    I can understand the companies that sells to end-users (and subsidiaries, mainly advertising agencies and ad-networks) urge to get better data about everybody’s browsing habits. As long as you remember that they want nothing else than to be able to always make you that offer you can’t refuse. That’s all fine with me.

    But the methods used to be able to make that offer is not fine with me.

    if we first go abouts and describe something i think all users would like to avoid getting on their computers:

    A program that is installed on computers and collects little bits of information at a time about users without their knowledge

    Now if i was to state that I created this program and selling the information about what you do to someone else. I would think that most of you now would go through the roof just wanting to have me put in Jail or worse…

    When you put it like that people usually gets nervous and jumpy as this is the definition of SPYWARE.
    Sadly that is exactly what some cookies does and the above statement happens daily in the advertising world, they sell and trade your information collected through cookies.

    They are not doing it because they can’t do it in another way or that it is technically challenging, they are doing it because it’s easy and we have come to accept it for so long. You also meet resistance to move to another method because the entire industry have built their business model around this. It will cost them more to rethink, rebuild than to fight for a legislation change.

    EU passed a legislation a while back under the “Telecoms reform package”
    directives COM (2007) 697, COD/2007/0247

    more information on wikipedia:

    and from

    Now the EU didn’t go all the way but long enough to say that:”if the settings in the browser to not accept cookies then tough luck” you can’t ask the users to it back on. as Its opt-in not opt-out.

    Companies that still wants to be able to track needs to come up with other methods, I don’t claim that any company is better than the next but I seriously think that US citizens should deeply consider the ramifications of not legislating about their own privacy.
    I’m also not stating that Europeans are better off because the legislation we got didn’t go all the way and users of browsers are not always aware of what they can do and not do. most tend to stick with the default settings to allow cookies.

    As Fuman stated its a global issue not a local one. but I’m taking the opposite stand here. if only one region goes towards privacy and others don’t guess where the companies are going to set up their servers????

  17. Well it all boils down to one thing!

    Invasion of your privacy!

    The goverment should respect this and put a stop to it.

    An Employer can not ask you some of these things or they are in deep trouble, so what gives these companies the right to break it?


  18. To me the only issue here is that my information is being taken with out my knowledge or permission.

    Anyone getting information from my computer should be required to get my permission before that information is copied.


    If I am ask, I will require that the collector provide the details of how the information is to be used. I would then have a choice of giving my data up,
    in any other case, IT IS BEING STOLLEN.

  19. I liken web tracking to malware: some of it is worse than others. But… why should I invest my time to figure out which is which? If the industry can’t be completely transparent and give meaningful choices (and, NO: setting cookies to tell you that I don’t want cookies is not a real option), I will continue to practice defense-in-depth to block tracking attempts.

    To my knowledge, I have only clicked on one ad in my entire Internet existence ( Doc is right, most users don’t trust-want-need ads. Worse, most real people have no need of an opaque commercial digital dossier that is increasingly used to make decisions about their lives, by both companies and by government (yes, among other things, the DHS uses unverified commercial databases to identify some travelers).

  20. Ads aren’t going away. We’ve had over a hundred years of advertising, and, while we’ve gone from horribly naive to somewhat knowledgeable, we’re certainly not at the point where we can read minds – that’s what it would take to implement the holy grail Doc is talking about, making buyer meet seller without guesswork. (Search engines that present paid for links at the top of search results are the closest you’re likely to get.)

    I like that people are looking at the tracking that is going on. But I think it’s a huge mistake for Doc to generalize from his personal feelings to a “consumers don’t trust ads.” If only. Consumers are mostly immune to ads. Decades of ads on TV and now ads on every page they visit have trained consumers how to recognize them and ignore them. The problem isn’t guesswork so much as it is presentation.

    I figure that tracking will continue. Keep in mind that it can happen regardless what the client computer does: simply logging IP address or requiring a “free” account at the server is enough. Who reads “our privacy policy,” anyway?

    If people want to keep a handle on this, for whatever reason, what’s needed is a level of transparency on consumer data that transcends the ordinary demands of the internet. Some small steps in that direction have been taken in the past few years, mostly in response to already outrageous abuses, which, again, have nothing to do with the internet as such, even if they’ve been pushed into the lime light by unrelated news about the internet.

  21. I object to the theft of my personal information (having been the victim of identity theft in the “real” world more than once) so I maintain a hosts file of barred sites on all the machines I ever use (even clients’ systems).

    It can sometimes make the browsing experience look somewhat messy depending on the browser’s response to being unable to access an advertiser (some can be quite verbose) but that’s a small price to pay.

    The nice thing about using hosts is that I can transport it from one OS to another – unlike the myriad plugins and add-ons that tend to be browser-specific. A simple ipconfig /flushdns (or variation on that) after installation (copy/paste) and I’m good to go.

    From time to time I also indulge in one of my favourite pastimes: manual cookie tainting. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s a simple way to mess with the data for those sites where the content has some value to me so I don’t want to consign it to hosts, but equally I don’t want to play the game according to “their” rules.

    It’s the little things in Life… 🙂

  22. BlueCollarCritic Avatar

    Scary isn’t it? I guess not if you are part of the generation who doesn’t care about privacy and is (mind numbingly) convinced that this knowledge about them will never be abused. These are teh folks who not only have no probelm going on a Reality TV SHow for the 15 minutes of fame but literally live their life to achieve said 15 minutes of fame.

    I think its improtant to note that warnings about these inasive practices have been raised by various persosn and groups but their warnings were downplayed or managed thru the use of name calling, throwing around tags like “Conspiracy Theorists” and yet here we are. We are seeing an acredited major emdia outlet say “Yes this is happeneing with your priavet data and Yes it is Google, Microsoft and other big players who are doing it”.

    Did you know that Googel finally admitted to being in partnership with the
    government, specifically teh inteeligence agencies to test predication sowfatre; sofwtare that makes future predications by tracking users activities? This was another violation of our privacy that so called conspiracy theorists have been warning us about fro a while.
    The internet community is divding itself into 3 distinct types with regards to security.

    Its time to quit foolishly saying “That can’t happene in America, not my America” as well as “Thats imposisble, someone would have said something by now or it would have been on the news” because its hapeening and once we loose something you can bet its unlikely we will ever get it back again. We haven’t completely lost or right to privacy but if we don’t force change bu forcing out the crookled politicians and electing local people who aren’t proffesioanl politicians to replace them we will see the end of the individual and all the rights and freedoms that go with that and a move towards the state or teh colelctive were no one person is higher then the state or the group.

    OUr country was founded on teh princiapls of libverty, freedom and the right for the individual to have all of these and persue freedom and you can bet that the drive to increase profits will not be impeeded by these rights unless we take an active role.

    And we can’t cound on the upcoming generation to do it either becuase most of them (not all just most) have been braiwashed into the group think and reality TV world and that privacy is something old and passe.

  23. Helge,

    I didn’t (and wouldn’t) say “consumers don’t trust ads.” Except as the reciprocal of “producer,” I wouldn’t use the term “consumer” in any case.

    Nor did I say that advertising would go away.

    I said there is no demand for tracking by individual customers. (Yes, most of us don’t mind a supplier like Amazon keeping track of what we buy and look for so they can make additional recommendations. Those recommendations might be guesswork, but they aren’t advertising. And they also take place within the context of a trusted relationship. We all know what Amazon is doing, and for the most part we’re okay with it.)

    I said better ways for demand and supply to meet would be found. This also doesn’t mean advertising goes away. It does mean some of the money now spent on guesswork won’t be.

    I quoted Eric Clemons and said I lean toward his views. But what he said and what I said are not the same.

  24. Ancient Brit,

    Your comment reminds me of something Don Marti (who commented above) once told me about: people who use their store loyalty cards only to buy whiskey and diapers. Just to screw with The System.

  25. The whole issue of data protection is a huge area which in my view will become increasingly problematic in the coming years, particularly if Facebook’s attitude to privacy and data protection is followed.
    The real kicker is that the “victims” of breach of data privacy give their personal details freely!

  26. >>The goverment should respect this and put a stop to it.<<

    The "government" is probably the biggest collector of information on individuals – without their knowledge. This has been going on for years. How can we be surprised that companies are doing this, and probably have been for years. The general public is just now becoming aware of what's real. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  27. I wrote the Social Web Analytics eBook 2008 because I believe that analytical capabilities can help organisations better understand their stakeholders so that they may then be more efficient and more effective at meeting their needs. This should benefit the stakeholders, the organisation and, where finite resources are concerned, the environment.

    But at no point does this vision grant any organisation the right to ride roughshod over societal privacy norms. In my post today, “My browser history is my own, so back off with your unethical social media metrics” I touch on just one narrow element of the full gamut addressed by the WSJ and here by Doc.

    Be open and ask nicely. That’s my conclusion, and this tenet will become increasingly important as two trends continue:

    1. as more of the so-called mid-market become aware of this surreptitious surveillance they won’t take it lightly, exercising their right to take their business elsewhere when equipped with the tools to throw light on some of these murky practices; and

    2. as the digital detritus we all kick off increases exponentially (and as a chartered engineer I don’t use that mathematical term loosley) with the advent of the Internet of Things.

  28. I still can’t understand the idea that better targeted ads are better for customers. The better that an advertiser can target, the lower quality the content needs to be. And mass advertising has more economic signaling value than targeted advertising. (Web ad targeting: can customers get a better deal?) It seems that using technology that interferes with tracking will have the effect that advertisers have to sponsor better content to reach you, and give up more information about how much they’re willing to back a product with advertising.

  29. the mystic’s view is that “energy follows intention”

  30. […] The Data Bubble (tags: advertising analytics web data internet marketing media privacy) […]

  31. I think I must be missing something that everyone else sees here. What is the problem with some people tracking what I do and where I go if the end result is I get offered the chance to buy things I like?

    Just look at an nfo release tracking site, on a single day, for the hundreds of mp3 albums that are being released. This is happening every day. Listening to it back to back would take longer than the 24 hour period we are considering. If I did like it then I would never get to listen to it again because I would be listening to new stuff non-stop just to check it all.

    I’m taking an example to an extreme I know but if these guesswork engines actually work and i’m presented with things I like all the time then aren’t I the one that has won here?

  32. […] biased but I think this post is one of Doc Searl’s best about VRM and what’s going to compel it forwards. It’s […]

  33. […] for customers to own and manage their own data that led Searls to inform his followers that “the tide turned today” on July 31, 2010, when the Wall St. Journal published a series of articles about the depth […]

  34. @rtpHarry: You ask: “What is the problem with some people tracking what I do and where I go if the end result is I get offered the chance to buy things I like?”

    How about asking yourself this: “What is the problem with some people tracking what I do and where I go?”

    We care that everyone is tracking us, probably exchanging the data with each other and the government (the Constitution doesn’t stop them if someone else does the snooping), and we don’t know what they are tracking and what they are using it for.

    “Oh, you want to buy life insurance? Sorry. It says here you have been reading about hang gliding and even bought some some safety goggles that might possibly be used by someone who hang glides. No life insurance for you. And don’t bother applying elsewhere. We all get our info from DataMarts R Us. Everyone will give you the same answer.”

    If you don’t care about the shortened question or aren’t interested in buying life insurance, then, yes, you have missed something. I wonder, are you one of the young cohort that has been conditioned already that there is no privacy? I don’t mean to be picking on you by that question. I just want to see whether you fit into that category that other articles have mentioned. If you don’t, that would be an interested data point (though I know only one isn’t significant).

  35. […] Wall Street Journal ruins it) become far more targeted and relevant; advertising will also start to fade away; the mass market will […]

  36. […] Searls, he of The Cluetrain Manifesto fame, declared July 31, 2010 as the day “the tide turned” on web advertising. The tipping point was a Wall Street Journal article titled The Web’s Gold Mine: You Secrets. […]

  37. […] Wall Street Journal ruins it) become far more targeted and relevant; advertising will also start to fade away; the mass market will […]

  38. Hey KD, thanks for your reply. I am 27 so I dont know if that fits the young category youre talking about. I’m a big geek and I love the idea of information being shared so we can build better systems. Like the postcode database here in the UK for example.

    I dont know if I have been conditioned to think that privacy isn’t important but I dont really think that it is. It seems like its based on peoples paranoia that others are going to do bad things to them if they find out their precious details. The example you gave was an interesting one but it kind of revolved around withholding your information to cheat the system. If all the hang gliders had fatal accidents then the rest of the non-hang gliding populations insurance premiums would go up? I assume that’s how it would work anyway.

    The argument all the way for these kinds of issues seems to be based on the fact that I dont want you to know everything about me so I have the option of being devious or doing something illegal and not being traced and punished for it.

    Dont get me wrong, i’m no saint and I enjoy getting away with things but I kind of take the view that if all of a sudden we could have a system that revealed everyone’s true behaviour then the laws and regulations simply wouldnt work the way they have been doing. I think everyone breaks some laws and you cant put the whole world in jail. The only solution would be to attempt to make more realistic ways to run the world.

    Perhaps 🙂

    (This is just an off the top of my head reply, I haven’t agonised over it and its only intended as a friendly discussion on the subject)

  39. Interesting that you make the assumption that my example was one of someone trying to cheat the system. *I* thought of it as an example of the system coming to a wrong conclusion by making unwarranted assumptions from combining two pieces of information that very plausibly could have no relation to each other. But the insurance companies don’t care — the *system* doesn’t care. They will come to their unwarranted conclusions, deny people coverage because they can and it *might* increase their profits.

    As long as corporations can justify all of their sins by claiming it is increasing shareholder value, there is going to be a problem. I don’t know how to fix that, and I can’t think of anything else that will fix it, short of an armed revolt followed by a reign of terror, but then that has problems of its own.

  40. @rptHarry: (Quote: ““What is the problem with some people tracking what I do and where I go if the end result is I get offered the chance to buy things I like?”)

    Nothing is ‘wrong’ with it, if you have no problem with it. However, it is the OPTION that is most crucial concerning these matters. What is frightening to many of us, I guess you could say, is that the element of FREE-WILL is increasingly being subtracted from the total equation. But enjoy your microchip implant, which I’m sure you’ll undoubtedly take.

  41. BI Software Reporter Avatar
    BI Software Reporter

    “As a marketer, I can defend search-based marketing especially in the business-to-business marketplace. Not relying on cookies, advertising on the top and right-hand side of a search engine results page, the searcher is getting almost-always relevant vendors who offer products and services related to what the search just typed in.

    It’s freedom of choice to click on those ads, and even more freedom of choice to complete any form that leads to follow-on marketing or information fulfillment.

    Focus groups of B2B searchers assert that they are happy to look at those paid listings in conjunction with the organic search results. They’re interested in finding solutions to the problem they are searching on, and a vendor might offer the solution better than what the search algorithm displays as “”un-paid”” advertising.

    Cookie-based advertising is interesting and effective, too, but I can’t argue with your anti-privacy stance on that one. Except to say that as advertiser, I don’t know who you are until you fill out a form on my site.”

  42. BI Software Reporter, who or what are you quoting?

    I took the link off your name, above. It goes to a company selling exactly the kind of data crunching stuff that this post is about.

    Nothing wrong with your business, and I’m glad to have your opinions, but that method (a link to a pitch page behind a personal identity) looks more like spam to me.

    I’m glad to be convinced otherwise, though.

  43. Im afraid we have to live in this world of web manipulation. It is not just the big advertizing companies and government agencies doing it even the humble internet Marketing spys and crooks are up to it.

  44. […] The Data Bubble – Doc Seals Weblog. […]

  45. […] Doc Searls Weblog · The Data Bubble. 17. Aug, […]

  46. […] The Data Bubble – Doc Seals Weblog. "It's sort of freaky that Alistair's recommended link for me was The Wall Street Journal's look at cookies and online privacy, considering I had this Blog post from Doc Searls (co-author of the magnificent business book, The Cluetrain Manifesto) pegged for him. While Doc does his usual role of breaking through the chaff really well, it's his own thoughts on the subject (and the amazing comments within the Blog post) that really makes this piece shine. Regardless of which side of the fence you're on about this topic, this Blog post made me love Blogs and everything the Internet has done for society even more because of the open conversation." (Mitch for Alistair). […]

  47. […] lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising […]

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