Welcome to the Beacosystem

target image

Corporate capitalism fuels an ever-expanding marketing race, which means a competitive, ever-expanding effort to study and profitably re-design off-the-job behavior.

Today’s New York Times carries an interesting story by Michael Kwet on what Kwet calls “the beacosystem.” This is the growing deployment of movement-tracking-and-recording Bluetooth beacons in retail and other spaces. The practice is known in the trade as “geomarketing.”

The means of accomplishing this immensely valuable form of behavioral monitoring is, of course, the cellular telephone. Apparently, many apps have deals to build undisclosed beacon tracking capability into their products:

The makers of many popular apps, such as those for news or weather updates, insert these toolkits into their apps. They might be paid by the beacon companies or receive other benefits, like detailed reports on their users.

And, of course, the story gets even worse. According to Kwet:

There is no easy way to determine which apps on your phone have the beacon location tracking built in. Even if you did know which companies have access to your beacon data, there’s no way to know what kind of data is collected through the app. It could be your micro-location, dwell time or foot traffic, but it can also include data from the app, such as your name, and your app data can be combined with other data sets compiled about you by data brokers. There is simply no transparency.

Privacy for America!

pfa logo

Our overclass doesn’t lack for chutzpah. As reported by Advertising Age, corporate marketers are hoping to get Congress to pass new “privacy” rules for data-use. By “privacy,” they mean “exposure,” of course.

The comprehensive dishonesty of the effort’s official explanation would, like the very name of its sponsoring group, make Big Brother choke on his Irish coffee. It is also, to put it one way, a true sign of the times.

The real story here is that the proposed new rules would, as Ad Age reports, be gestural and toothless, and would, thanks to their existence at the federal level, put a stop to individual states trying to create actual limits on big businesses’ behavior-surveillance efforts.

For students of propaganda, one interesting — and demanding — task would be to add notes and revisions correcting this official mission statement, to make it speak the actual, behind-the-scenes truth about its actual purpose. Literally every sentence here would require important changes. Some sentences lie with their every single word.

And this is no side effort. As Ad Age explains,

Five of the ad industry’s largest trade bodies have banded together to create “Privacy for America,” a coalition that aims to sway Congress in creating federal legislation on consumer data privacy.

The trade bodies — which include the 4A’s, Association of National Advertisers, Digital Advertising Alliance, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative — are in a race to influence Congress in how lawmakers create federal guidelines surrounding user data for digital marketing.

Companies including Google, Facebook, AT&T, Hearst, Conde Nast, Disney, CBS and Amazon are all represented by trade bodies in the new group.

Frequent readers will know that TCT is fond of repeating Robert Heilbroner’s quotation about the dire long-term implications of building a human culture around telling ornate lies for money. As “Privacy for America” shows, we now have a culture in which the most powerful players tell ornate lies about telling ornate lies for money.

Least Surprising News

eyeball Advertising Age for March 30 includes a story titled “Brands Just Can’t Seem to Quit Facebook.”

Well, duh.

Facebook exists to collect marketing data, to perform for corporations what people with cameras and stopwatches do inside corporate workspaces.

According to this report, at most 5 of Facebook’s top 1,000 advertisers even might have ceased using the platform as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Most likely, none have.

“This speaks to how important Facebook is as an advertising channel, and that brands are surely making the decision that the benefits of the platform outweigh the smaller risks of brand damage due to association with it,” [marketing research firm CEO Gabe] Gottlieb says.

As Gottlieb knows, the institutional fact is that the spying done by Facebook and an ever-expanding portion of the rest of the infrastructure for off-the-job life is every bit as vital to corporate capitalists as is detailed knowledge of paid labor processes. Barring a huge popular uprising against them and their system, the powers-that-be are simply never going to desist from gathering such data. Power concedes nothing, and scrambles to cover its trail when important concessions threaten to get discussed. Hence, this phony little mea culpa melodrama.

The Essence of Facebook

snake As reported by none other than Michael Wolff, Mark Zuckerberg long ago admitted that, when all the cover stories are dropped, Facebook is a corporate marketing tool.

“Our business is advertising,” said Mark Zuckerberg who, although he was the penultimate speaker at the eG8 conference in a stultifying hot hall, managed to fill the room.

“This trend of people being empowered to share things that they want will be the trend for the next five or ten years. . . .” Zuckerberg probably means to share what they want to share. But it may just mean to share desires in general—impulses, hankerings, things. “If you think about advertising, what’s going to be more effective than any advertising you show is something your friend says they like,” says Zuckerberg.

Five or ten years later, here’s a very useful report on the state-of-the-art in overclass data harvesting.

As TCT has always contended, totalitarian spying is part and parcel of corporate capitalism, which literally requires its constant expansion and refinement.

Not that this kind of boilerplate-but-unmentionable social fact ever quite sinks in. Even the reporter of the above survey of what Facebook does on behalf of its other corporate clients concludes that we “did it ourselves.”

Internet of Spying Things

eyeball Not surprisingly, it turns out that “smart home” stuff is just another advance in the techniques of big business marketing/corporate capitalist totalitarianism.

Gizmodo has a fascinating report on this topic. In it, a journalist and a computer whiz figured out how to spy on the “smart home” spies. By building a special router, the computer whiz arranged to port to himself a copy of the outgoing behavioral data sent from the journalist’s “smart home” back to the journalist’s ISP (and associated big business data harvesters). Here is what the computer whiz found:

I had the same view of Kashmir’s house that her Internet Service Provider (ISP) has. After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too. With my “iotea” router I was seeing what information about Kashmir and her family that Comcast, her ISP, could monitor and sell.

There was a lot to see. Since the router was set up at the beginning of December, there hasn’t been a single hour of complete silence from it, even when there was no one in the house.

Of course, given how we have allowed our media ecology to be devoured by corporate entities and interests, the masses are never going to get adequate, coherent information about this mind-blowing Orwellianism and its obvious connection to TPTB in our flailing, catastrophe-courting society and world. Nonetheless, have a read, TCT folks. It’s what’s happening, behind the curtain.

What Scares Corporate Marketers

eyeball “It’s pretty scary,” Scott Hagedorn tells Advertising Age.

Who is Hagedorn, and of what is he afraid?

“We are not reaching young audiences effectively,” says this CEO of Hearts & Science, the marketing agency that describes its work for “the world’s biggest brands” thus:

Our clients shift from brands that push content out to brands that pull people in. We’re creating new relationships between brands and people like never before.

The crisis to which Hagedorn refers is the fact that:

a growing audience of people who aren’t tracked — and therefore can’t be targeted or measured — with traditional tools and platforms. They consume media on mobile devices and OTT. They’re “cord cutters” and “cord nevers.” And they represent tremendous buying power for brands. The stakes are high—47% of Millennials and Gen X appear “unreachable” within standard planning tools, and 66% of their media consumption isn’t tracked, either.

Hagedorn clarifies in today’s Wall Street Journal:

And if it can’t be measured, it can’t be properly targeted or planned against as part of a cohesive, cross-platform campaign.

“Planned against.” Write that down, TCT readers.

Meanwhile, not to worry, overclass. Answers, as always, are being perfected by heroes like Hagedorn. Thanks to the emerging standard practice of “integrating code to measure in-app content and ad consumption…on literally every [video-watching] platform, device and client app,” the crude surveillance methods of the past are on their way out.

The days of yore wherein the [Nielsen] panel served as the proxy for an audience — setting behavior, reach, and cost estimates — fall out of the picture. Google and Facebook , along with telecom “pipes” like AT&T and Verizon , and retailers like Amazon, have massive install bases that are logged in across screens, making identity-based marketing not only feasible, but the most accurate solution to capture these new consumer behaviors.

We’ll no longer need the panel as proxy for an audience, as we’ll have a deterministic view of the people in the audience. Identity-based marketing becomes the solution that holds consumer identity as the currency against which we measure, plan and buy media across devices and platforms.

As many of these platforms own the consumer experience from end to end – not just identifying their audience at a granular level, but also creating the content being consumed – it’s only a matter of time until these identity-based currencies and identity-based experiences become the marketer’s art. [WSJ, 9/22/2017]