CyberTech Rambler

December 1, 2007

Advertisement System and Privacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Every website needs to find money to fund it, coz running a website cost money. It is difficult to find money even to keep a non-profit website running. That is why I really respect people who took the trouble to provide websites and services free of charge, such as Granite Canyon. For profit websites have a bigger problem, not only they have to cover their running cost, they have to make sufficient return for their investers.

Donations, selling stuff and services, making running a website part of the cost of running a business and paid-for subscriptions are ways to pay for the website. They all have their limitations. The biggest problem, is to convince someone to fork out money. With donations, you need to find a benefactor for your cause, that’s a big limitation. It takes some convincing to get the users to pay for the website themselves. In either case, both sources of money are generally speaking, rather limitted and difficult to come by.

That is why advertising is a favourite and proven form of finance for website. What is better than getting not the users, but someone else to pay for the website? And we see big evolution steps in advertising on website since the pre-dotcom days. Initially, we are talking about advertisers placing ads at targetted website, then advertisers relies on search engines, e.g., Google, to target users. Just a few years ago we see better targetting of ads by mining of user’s data, examplify by Gmail advertisementt system.

With exception of ads at targetted website, we, the users, had been trading our privacy for free website access. Typing a search phrase into a search engine betray what we are looking for, which is exploited by advertisers to place adverts to entice us. We betray even more information about ourselves when we uses services like Gmail, because we provide the website with even more information about ourselves.

Website providers know it is a tight rope to thread when it comes to pushing our limits on trading privacy to finance their operations. They know that with one well-advertised misstep, they can go under. Google had so far been very successful at threading this line. Gmail, when announced, attracts a lot of attacks on privacy ground. Still, users flocks to it, including yours sincerely. Google also had been accused of tracking users movement and use that to place “target” advertisements. In this aspects, Google had not been very successful. In fact, one can argue that Google had to back-pedal several times, for example, purging cookies data after some time period had expired. It is, however, haven’t given up on tracking users yet.

It seems that, most users, me included, are less concerned about the documents we own and contains information about ourselves, and more concern about people tracking our movements or as I prefer to call it, Stalking. Eventhough the documents we left behind can cause more damages then our movement, and it is easier to do so. Still, stalking is a field with  a lot of hidden treasure for website providers. Hence, they are going to try to persuade us to reveal more about our movement. The trick here is, as always, convince us that what we receive from giving up our movement information is worth it.

Facebook is trying a new and bold attempt to convert “users movements” into money. It receives a lot of attention. My particular favourite is the attention from the Economist magazine. Since then, it had received its share of negative news, including this one from PC World. Increasingly, it looks like it is a advertisement scheme that is too ambitious and not very carefully implemented. Before I start complaining, I need to declare that I am not a Facebook users, nor users of any social networking site. To me, they are a waste of time. Hence, all the information I presents here are gathered from third party review.

First, and perhaps its most fatal mistake, is it takes “stalking” to the next level. Unlike a traditional stalker, not only does Facebook “stalk” you, it broadcasts all your move to your friends. One might be very close to your girlfriend, but do you really want her to know you just shopped for a “ring”, even if (or should I say, especially if), the ring is for her? This type of advertisement in effect turned all your friends into your stalkers, whether they want it or not. That’s bad.

Second, difficulty in opting out. I cannot see Facebook allows users to opt-out completely. That is their business model, but I can see it make giving the users more control over what information is being broadcasted. One system that I can think of is to allow users to select what information to broadcast and to who. For example, if I sceretly bought a  new lego set for myself, I might want to broadcast it to all my lego-fanatic fans, but not my kids. Also, a complementary system where users can choose what they want to receive will be a good idea. The current system of having to “decline” broadcast every time is very annoying to say the least.

Thirdly, and this is an implementation issue, is the report from PC World that information from third party website got transmitted to Facebook, even if you opt out and log out of Facebook because it does not prompt you to decline the transfer of information back to Facebook. It is an implementation issue because FaceBook can and should had vet their partners system to make sure this does not happen.

Will Facebook’s system works? I do not know. It probably depends on whether it can survives the negative publicity it is receiving now. All these negative publicity and scrutiny of its system is only to be expected. Facebook will fine-tune its system in response to these concerns and publicity. Hence, it is difficult to see or predict what the final system will look like and whether this final system is acceptable to users, who ultimately will determine the success of Facebook.

Still, you got to congratulate Facebook for trying!

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