October 09, 2017

When Data Is Dangerous

It has become an article of faith in the marketing business that the future of marketing is about data.
 "Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change," says The Economist.
Scientific American says, "The digital revolution is in full swing...in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind..."
The primacy of data in marketing has been beaten into us for the past 10 years. In fact, it has become such a platitude that we no longer even stop to think about what it means.

Data sounds very scientific, impersonal and hygienic. But it is not.

When marketers talk about data what they usually mean is personal private information about us that is collected, traded, sold and exploited without our knowledge or consent.

To marketers, data is not all numbers and algorithms. It is your sexual preferences, your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your banking details, your medical and psychological diagnoses, your work history and political preferences. It is thousands of facts about you that you never suspected anyone knew or collected.

It has the potential to be used in a myriad of dangerous ways by any incompetent, irresponsible organization that has the wherewithal to collect it or buy it.

Data is just a bland, emotionless word for some highly sensitive information. It makes the collection of personal private information about us seem to be an inoffensive remote branch of mathematics.

Next time some cliché-spewing marketing-droid  blithely repeats the mantra that the future of marketing is all about data, remember this -- data isn't neutral. Data, in the wrong hands, is dangerous.

And we have every reason to believe that the marketing industry is the wrong hands.

October 05, 2017

Yahoo: Incompetent, Irresponsible, And Dangerous

If you would like an example of how the online ad industry's insatiable lust for "data" - usually just a pleasanter term for personal private information about us - has defiled our society and undermined our right to privacy, look no further than Yahoo.

In my new book, BadMen, I tell the story of how in 2014 Yahoo demonstrated utter disregard for the privacy and security of its users.

Their security chief warned them that their platform was woefully insecure and easily hacked. He recommended a system of end-to-end encryption to protect their users.

The ceo and the board rejected his recommendation because implementing the proper security measures would mean they could no longer scan the emails and text messages of their users and use this information to create targeting opportunities for their advertising clients.

Soon thereafter, half a billion Yahoo accounts were hacked.

But that ain't nothing.

It was revealed yesterday that a year earlier, in 2013, every single Yahoo account -- 3 billion of them -- were hacked. Somehow Yahoo never bothered to fully investigate the extent of the hack.

Earlier, Yahoo had reported that the 2013 hack affected 1 billion accounts - which is bad enough. But an investigation by their new owners - Verizon - revealed that the hack was actually three times larger than Yahoo reported. And, in fact, was the biggest known hack in history.

If I ran the world, Yahoo's ceo and board would be fined $1 per hack and dragged off to jail. But, then again, if I ran the world Yahoo would have been put to sleep years ago.


October 04, 2017

From Amazing To Appalling

It was all going to be so amazing. It all sounded so great. Advertising was going to be amazing.

People weren't going to just look at online ads, they were going to interact with them.

People were going to go online and “join the conversation” about our brands and start their own conversations. And these conversations would grow virally and it wouldn't cost us a penny.
"If you can harness social media marketing, you don’t have to pay for advertising any more,” said a partner in Sequoia Capital.
It sounded so amazing. And it's turned out to be so appalling.

The online advertising "ecosystem" is a complete disaster.
  • The ANA says corruption within the agency media buying community is "pervasive."
  • Viewability of online ads is reported to be below 50%.
  • Interactivity with online ads is now reported to be about 5 clicks per 10,000 ads. You can't get much closer to zero.
  • The public is so disgusted with online advertising that 600 million web-enabled devices are armed with ad blockers.
  • Facebook and Google are reaping 77% of all online ad dollars in the U.S. and have become an arrogant duopoly who refuse to abide by long established standards of measurement and auditing.
  • The three-headed monster of tracking, surveillance marketing, and ad tech are endangering consumer privacy and undermining important principles of a free society.
  • Quality online publishers are struggling for existence while the crappiest online sites - fed substantially by ad tech's data leakage - are stealing and monetizing their audiences.
  • Fake news, also fed by the scourge of ad tech, has undermined the public's confidence in our news media.
  • Foreign governments, encouraged by the online ad industry's irresponsible practices, have been caught trying to subvert the integrity of our electoral process.
If you set out to create an advertising medium that was a complete fiasco I'm not sure you could do much better.