Do You Mind Being 'Googled?' How About 'BlueKai'd?'

Dennis Byron

If you think the advertising-driven model of social computing and Enterprise 2.0 is a problem for its intrusiveness and data privacy, hold on to your click-throughs because the U.S. Congress is getting involved. One congressman from Brooklyn seems to be considering a law to force browsers to block cookies and allow you to select other privacy management options before you get to the Net. Talk about government micromanagement of the IT industry on a grand scale. Stick to cars, Congressman!

 

On June 18, the Brooklyn representative and other politicians in Washington held a hearing with Facebook, Google, Yahoo and a representative of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI). The NAI counts Akamai, AOL's Platform-A division, AlmondNet, AudienceScience, BlueKai, MediaSixdegrees, SpecificMEDIA and 24/7 Real Media among its members as well as Google and Yahoo. Also on the panel was a Princeton professor to explain the IT involved, a telecomm-providers/ISPs lobbyist who seemed to be in watch mode, and Jeffrey Chester, who is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a lonely opponent of self-regulation of the behavior-based advertising activity favored by Google, Yahoo and the NAI.

 

If you haven't heard of most NAI members, that's the way they want it. They are the folks that are watching every keystroke you make. Unless -- despite the Brooklyn congressman's yet-to-be passed law -- you have already used your browser to set strict privacy limits. Google, Yahoo and the industry recognize that watching your clickstream is intrusive and ripe for abuse. But that's what the people that pay the bills -- the advertisers that, for example, account for more than 95 percent of Google's revenue -- want. And the big search-engine/content providers and behavioral software suppliers say they are bending over backwards to educate consumers and let them opt out of being watched. According to Yahoo (and I believe it) many people like their behavior watched because it increases the likelihood that they will see ads about products they are interested in. Facebook, of course, is all about making your private information public.

 

But as is typical, this hearing-happy U.S. Congress is down in the weeds while the real issues are antitrust activity, better protection of our data of all types and partisan politics. Never mentioned, that I heard, was the close interconnection of Yahoo and Google, which resulted from Microsoft trying to acquire Yahoo in 2008. Google's ownership of DoubleClick was glossed over, and I did not hear mention of Microsoft's ownership of aQuantive (which to me is more of an ad agency than a software provider, anyway).

 

From a privacy point of view, there is no doubt there is all kinds of stuff out there about us as individuals. With credit bureaus and open-government-information laws (recorded mortgages, police blotters, voting lists, etc.) long predating the Internet, your click-throughs and keystrokes are the least of your privacy issues. Modern data-mining software does allow the behavioral advertiser to match your clickthroughs with this other long-available information, according to the Princeton professor, but the real issue is that someone is compiling and buying that long-available data, merging it with the Internet activity, and then also buying the new merged/purged data, without you knowing about the purchase or what "your file" says. You should be able to see that data just the same way you can see a credit report.


 

I guess if that takes another act of Congress, so be it.



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