Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Schizophrenia Is The New Ad Gimmick - Privacy Fears Mount as Ad Targeting Grows
: In the quest for better targeted advertising, marketers are using high-tech tools that can pinpoint a person's location, demographics and habits, raising the hackles of privacy activists.

Online or in the shopping mall, these efforts are becoming more prevalent. Google, Yahoo and its advertising partners can track a user's browsing habits in an effort to deliver more relevant marketing messages.
Offline, new digital signs with hidden cameras can use facial recognition software to tailor messages similar to the scenario in the science fiction film "Minority Report." Some analysts say the new technology is positive, enabling firms to get the most for their advertising dollars.
"We're marketers. We present consumers with information that they can use to make informed buying decisions related to our brands," says Rob Graham, vice president at the consulting firm Laredo Group.
"Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66 percent) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests," the study concluded. "Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages... say they would not want such advertising."
Chris Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology's information privacy programs, said many Web users are aware their habits are tracked by firms such as Google or Amazon, but are unsettled by third-party advertisers and marketers tracking across websites without any permission.
"Individuals don't want to be tracked," he said. "It might not cause you harm, it might just be creepy."
The practices underscore concerns over online privacy at a time when social network giant Facebook is embroiled in its own controversy over sharing data with third-party websites.
New technology is also testing the limits of acceptable practices and privacy offline. In some shopping malls, a new generation of digital signs not only can change messages frequently but can measure customer traffic and determine who is walking by through facial recognition software.
To some, it raises the specter of the scene in "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise's character walks through a futuristic mall.
"John Anderton. You could use a Guinness right about now," a digital sign announces in the film.
"We're not quite there yet but we are at a point where we can adjust the ads according to who is in front of that screen," said Keith Kelsen, chairman and chief executive of Media Tile, a digital signage firm.
Kelsen said the signage industry has a set of guidelines to protect privacy, and dismissed most of the fears as overblown.
"There is really no reason for concern because we're not tracking individuals, we're tracking information that is collected on whether they are male or female, or quantities of people, how long do they look at the screen," he said.
But some privacy activists say the industry has not done enough to protect against abuses.
"The vast majority of people walking in stores, near elevators and in other public and private spaces have no idea that the innocent-looking flat screen TVs playing videos may be capturing their images and then dissecting and analyzing them for marketing purposes," said a January report by the World Privacy Forum.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the privacy group, said the digital signage industry "has all sorts of issues touching privacy, including children's privacy."
In a prominent blunder for the industry, lubricant maker Castrol set up digital billboards in London last year equipped with cameras that read the license plates of each passing motorist, accessed a database to find the automobile's model and year, and flashed the driver a message about what type of oil their vehicle should use.
The campaign was ended after a few days amid criticism.
Some makers of the technology, including firms like South Korea's Samsung and Japan's NEC, may be able to determine a viewer's race or nationality and can personalize Google and Yahoo! ads.
Companies are also using GPS technology in mobile phones to tailor ads to a user's location, such a specials for lattes as someone walks by a coffee shop.
Although this is still relatively new, the Center for Digital Democracy frets about a lack of guidelines.
"The emerging system for mobile advertising is clearly an extension of the current interactive targeting apparatus that has raised so many concerns over privacy and consumer protection," the group said in a petition to US regulators.

Schizophrenia Is The New Ad Gimmick

aminuts.jpgWalking westward on Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott Streets, I heard a woman's voice in my head whispering, "Who's there? Who's there?" Not like I "heard" a woman's voice like when I wear flared jeans with skinny shoes and I "hear" a woman's voice in my head say, "Wait, you've got to be kidding?" but like an actual woman's voice in my head. This usually means I've had a psychotic break.
But! Then I noticed that, above a billboard for some A&E show called Paranormal State were some speakers that looked like hypersonic sound beams, a device which uses your skull as a speaker—that is, it transmits soundwaves that resonate against whatever surface they hit.
So when they hit your head, it sounds like the call is coming from the inside the brain-house.
The billboard says 73% of Americans believe and I'm assuming that that means 73% of Americans believe in ghosts. So if that's true, why try to convert the skeptical/not crazy 27% by beaming voices into their heads? That's just greedy. Also it leads to a lingering sense of serious mental violation. How soon will it be until in addition to the Do Not Call list, we'll have a Do Not Beam Commercial Messages Into My Head list?

Marketers, the Military, and Me

You may have heard already about the A&E billboard beaming audio to the street in New York City. A speaker mounted above the billboard sends ultrasound waves from 7 stories up to a specific location below. Because it’s highly directional, for people outside the target area it’s hardly, if at all, audible. Here’s a demonstration video made by the marketing company:

The “Audio Spotlight” technology has been written up in Gawker (who’s writer was thoroughly creeped out), AdAge, and as the subject of tech pieces in many media outlets. It was only WFMU that made the connection with military technology.

Having just watched the 2nd episode of Jon Ronson’s BBC Documentary, Crazy Rulers of the World (pt1 on google video or torrent all 3 parts) based on his book The Men Who Stare at Goats, this directed audio technology was fresh in my mind. Here’s that clip – the audio stuff kicks in at 45 seconds:

Now before you start connecting the dots, the Audio Spotlight was developed at MIT in Boston, while the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) seen in the Ronson video was developed by American Technology in San Diego. But they do essentially accomplish the same thing.

Without sounding like the conspiracy nuts Ronson features in his books, I do find the overlap with military techniques and advertising techniques noteworthy, if not amusing. Quite simply both parties are interested in “affecting behavior” as American Technology’s website puts it. And what kind of world do we live in when the same techniques used in “PSYOP” missions and “Detainee Operations” (see American Technology’s site) are used to promote television shows about ghosts?

One of the things I personally find fascinating is how people justify bringing new forms invasive advertising into the world. The inventor, Joe Pompei, who in video appears to be a well-meaning 30 something, sees this as a solution to noise pollution. He claims, “the whole idea is to spare other people.” I think he’s right. In cases where loudspeakers broadcast sound in every direction, needlessly, the audio spotlight is the solution hands-down. But that’s not the case with the A&E billboard. The A&E billboard introduces audio to an environment that had none – but supposedly it’s ok because it’s not blasting in every direction. Just one.

In response to criticism about just how creepy it is to have advertising messages more or less beamed into your head in public space, Pompei had this to say, “There’s going to be a certain population sensitive to it. But once people see what it does and hear for themselves, they’ll see it’s effective for getting attention.” What? Oh Joe, you’re right, they don’t understand. Once those complainers realize that it’s “effective at getting attention” then they’ll see.
Actually Joe, the problem is it already got their attention.


  1. "Researchers have found that marketing students score lower on measures of ethics and academic integrity than any other university majors... marketing majors cheat significantly more than their peers in other business disciplines." - Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID

  2. directed ultrasound is a weapon - it's typical that the low life scum element have taken it up for marketing.

  3. Hey, I'm sure big pharma would like to get in on this one! Imagine the sales of drugs to combat psychosis!


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