Privacy for America!

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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.

The Age of Attribution

terminator 2 image As TCT has long argued, big business marketing only ever grows. Hence, unless and until we create a new social movement capable of perceiving, analyzing, and countering it, market totalitarianism will also only grow.

Consider the case of AT&T, the corporation just now releasing new services that will allow corporate advertisers to achieve, in the still hugely important activity of “linear TV” what is known in the marketing trade as “attribution.”

AT&T, of course, is a venerable corporation, dating back to the early days of the Corporate Revolution, in which, under elite lobbying pressure, U.S. states began, in the late 1880s, granting investors charters stripped of prior “grant theory” limits on conglomeration and cross-ownership.

Recall, too, that, in the ironic year of 1982, the U.S. government compelled the break-up of AT&T, which by that time had become the 22nd largest U.S.-based largest business.

As of 2018, AT&T was #9 in the Fortune 500, and also, according to Wikipedia, “the world’s largest media and entertainment company in terms of revenue.”

In that capacity, the bigger-than-ever behemoth is now promulgating Xandr, the private-sector espionage operation that will “provide a premium option for advertisers and publishers looking to reach specific audiences at scale in premium and brand-safe environments”: attribution.

Attribution is the ability to know, rather than merely guess, how individuals respond to advertising delivered via conventional television broadcasts. It is the computerized tracking of specific individuals’ real-world behaviors. With such capability, big business marketers gain ground on two major fronts in “Audience Targeting”:

Segmentation
Use consumer insights from various trusted and secured data sources to better connect with current, lapsed or future customers. Identify particular patterns to predict future intentions and connect those individuals with the most relevant advertising.

Identity
Mobile, TV and broadband customer relationships create a holistic view of consumers and their various touchpoints. By continually cleansing and normalizing IDs across channels we maintain a high-quality data set. This process provides deterministic household and device mapping with the ability to add probabilistic scoring to expand reach.

Xandr, by the way, provides some tales of the resultant improvements in overclass command over off-the-job affairs.

One aim of such new power, according to Xandr itself, is to increase the frequency of moments “when a brand helps [marketing targets] find a product they didn’t know they wanted.”

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.”

Koop it Up

brill In the spirit of C. Everett Koop, Joycelyn Elders, and Diane Ravitch, it appears we have our latest heretical honest public servant mistakenly-appointed high government agency administrator. This time, it’s Julie Brill, pictured at left, head of the Federal Trade Commission. Per Advertising Age:

Big data brokers are “taking advantage of us without our permission.” Those were the words of Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill this morning at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in Washington.

The commissioner, often vocal on data-privacy issues, called on Congress to legislate what she calls a “Reclaim Your Name” program, one that would establish technical controls allowing people to access the information data collectors have stored about them, control how it is shared and correct it when necessary.

As always, the reaction was immediate:

The Direct Marketing Association was caught off guard by Commissioner Brill’s announcement. “DMA has been in discussion with Commissioner Brill regarding ways to increase transparency in the ‘data broker’ industry, but was surprised to see her announcement of this new initiative,” said Rachel Thomas, VP of government affairs at DMA. “The FTC’s Section 6B inquiry into ‘data brokers’ is still ongoing, and the Commission has yet to articulate a specific problem that would justify a call for congressional action in this area,” she continued in an emailed statement.

The fun continued, too, as Brill dared tell the obvious truth about another aspect of corporate marketing-spying:

Ms. Brill indicated that the FTC believes mobile device IDs are personally-identifiable…. “Information linked to specific devices is, for all intents and purposes, linked to individuals,” she said.

The FTC is calling on data companies and users of consumer data “to commit to a robust program to de-identify their information,” she said, arguing that predictive analytics have rendered much of the consumer information collected as forever linked to individuals, no matter industry’s claims that the information often is anonymized or aggregated.

Companies should “take both technical and behavioral steps to make sure information used in advertising is truly and completely de-identified.” Ms. Brill didn’t make distinctions between data collected and used by first-parties and third-parties.

Countless retailers and consulting firms that provide data services to them — such as Acxiom, Merkle and many others — handle terabytes of personally-identifiable consumer data on a regular basis.

Ms. Brill’s comments come amid revelations that the National Security Administration has gleaned consumer phone call and Internet data from corporations including Verizon, Google and Facebook. Indeed, corporate data-harvesting practices for logistics and marketing purposes have facilitated the controversial NSA data grab.

Companies collecting or employing data should make a public commitment not to re-identify information, and should contractually require their partners to make the same commitments, continued the commissioner.

How can you tell when you have the overclass dead-to-rights? That’s when they have nothing left to say but plain denial. According to Ad Age:

Many of the companies using device IDs to track in-store shopping behavior and other location-based interactions hold that they are not.

“Many” here means “all,” of course…

One wonders: How long til Zerobama cans Brill?

The March of Progress

eyeball Per Advertising Age:

Imagine for a second that you could interview a product. How often is it being used? For how long? And where in the house does it live?

Sounds crazy, but it’s increasingly probable as marketers mine for data beyond the usual places — web browsers, loyalty programs and smartphones — and capture information from pill packages, soda fountains and the most mundane of consumer implements, the toothbrush.Yes. The toothbrush.

Take the $49.99 Beam Brush, launched in January. It syncs with a user’s smartphone to record brushing time, and that data can be tracked and shared with dentists, orthodontists and, eventually, insurance companies.

Sounds crazy? No. Sounds entirely logical, if you understand corporate capitalism and its marketing race.

And here’s the equally predictable thinking behind such new devices:

“People often refer to us as a toothbrush company, but we’re not. We’re actually not interested in toothbrushes at all. We’re interested in health data,” said Alex Frommeyer, co-founder of Beam Technologies, based in Louisville, Ky. “In many ways, [data-tracking] is the entire point” of the Beam Brush.

In the quaint old days in which the TCT book was written, I used to keep track of how ads were showing up in places like urinals and the bottoms of golf holes. Now, the products themselves are being used not just as marketing stimuli, but as yet another way of spying on targets.

Ad Age sees wonders ahead:

[B]eyond fitness and health care, the data mined from sensor-equipped products could hold huge advantages for marketers. The biggest opportunity could be in more “simple product” categories — such as consumer packaged goods — in which data-generating technology helps marketers test ideas and could eventually guide everything from product positioning to distribution.

In effect, data allows marketers to get feedback directly from products, said John T. Cain, VP of SapientNitro and co-founder of Sapient-owned Iota Partners, an agency that “instruments” products and environments to understand consumer behavior.

“If you could talk to the products, you might get a completely different perspective,” he said, doing his best rendition of a 21st century Dr. Dolittle. “As the price of technology comes down, increasingly there will be and can be embedded sensing bits in products.”

Market totalitarianism anybody?