Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Internet Privacy, Fend for Yourself

The Washington Post ran a story today about the FTC's review of behavioral targeting by Internet advertisers. I have followed the regulation of Internet advertising for ten years, and I believe the privacy issue is much more interesting to privacy advocates and journalists than to the average Internet user. It's not that the issue needs more publicity; thousands of articles have been written, speeches made, press conferences held, and lawsuits filed, not to mention billions of banners ads run by well-intended marketers themselves. And still, most people have little interest in the issue, and those who do care about it protect themselves with cookie-deleting or ad-blocking tools that are inexpensive and readily available. The FTC has repeatedly told Congress that it already has all the regulation it needs to protect Internet users, because deceptive practices are already illegal, and almost any egregious intrusion on your privacy can be connected to a deceptive practice.

With my good understanding of the landscape, I recommend to friends that they familiarize themselves with the information that marketers collect, and when it crosses outside their personal comfort zone, take action, which often is as simple as opting-out or adjusting browser tools. Do not rely on the government law or regulation to protect you; the landscape shifts too quickly for that ever to be effective.

For instance, when AOL released supposedly anonymous search histories to academics and journalists a few years ago, the New York Times was able to track down one of the users within hours. Someone noted that, for a heavy Internet user, your search history is essentially a record of every thought you've had for the past several years. For some people, such a history is a benefit, because they can retrieve old searches and perform them again. To others, it's creepy. And fortunately for those in the latter group, most search engines make it easy to opt-out of their collecting your search history. And some Internet Service Providers are working with marketers to track every single Web site you ever visit, and then create a targeting profile. They provide assurances that the profiles are anonymous, and carefully secured. Many people actually prefer that any ads they receive be targeted to their interests. As long as these ISPs adequately disclose their practices and enable users to opt-out (which they can do by switching ISPs, for starters), there is no need for the government to do anything more, other than to ensure there is adequate competition in the marketplace.

How do you familiarize yourself with Internet marketing practices ? FindingDulcinea's Web Guide to Internet Marketing and Privacy is a narrated guide to the best resources for understanding both off-line and online marketing practices, and how to take steps to opt-out of practices you personally are uncomfortable with.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kentucky Derby - the Day After

With the Derby favorite prevailing, the "wise guys" who usually try to beat the favorite nurse their wounds. They were relying to much on history. Yes, no horse had won from the 20 post since 1929, but there had been only 11 Derbies with 20 horses in that time, and plenty of horses had won from far outside posts. To be sure, Big Brown had much to overcome with the post and his lack of experience, but as I wrote yesterday, while he had to "be far, far better than anyone else in the race to even be in the picture.... he just may be that much better than this mediocre field." And the field proved to be mediocre, and Big Brown far, far better. I did bet him on top in a lot of triple keys.

Unfortunately, while my top pick, Denis of Cork ran third at 27 to 1, I did not bet the filly, Eight Belles, at all. Sometimes a horse is so improbable that I would not bet on him or her even if they ran the race again in three weeks; but Eight Belles is one that, in hindsight, I should have had, due to her consistency in a field comprised largely of inconsistent, and mediocre, horses. Tragically, there will be no next time for Eight Belles, as she had to be euthanized after breaking two front ankles. NBC used bad news judgment in its coverage; it was clear to any experienced observer, of which NBC had many working the broadcast, that the horse had been euthanized immediately, and yet NBC pressed the reluctant Dr. Bramlage to explicitly say so on the air.

As with all Derbies, the large field caused some serious traffic problems. One horse I liked, Visionaire, appears to have gotten a particularly difficult trip, and I'll be giving him another chance if he makes it to the Preakness of Belmont. Big Brown certainly seems like a formidable Triple Crown candidate based on his emphatic win, but there's a reason no Derby winner has gone on to win the the next two in the past 30 years. Maintaining his form without a deep "base" of prior experience will be quite a challenge. And while it doesn't appear that any of the vanquished foes from yesterday are likely to turn the tables any time soon, there's always a few "dark horses" who show up to provide a fresh challenge. When Barbaro tragically broke down the Preakness two years ago, it obscured the fact that the winner, Bernardini, was a fresh horse who ran a remarkable race and might have won even if Barbaro ran his best race. One intriguing possibility this year is Casino Drive, a half brother to the past two Belmont Stakes winners, who plans to come from Japan for the Belmont.