I think everyone knows that a lot of data is collected as we conduct our daily digital activities. Google and the other search engines know what we’re looking for, Amazon and other commerce sites know what we’re shopping for, Facebook knows what we like, LinkedIn knows who we know, etc., etc., etc. These data footprints are collected and in many cases sold to marketers and their agents to allow them to serve ads to you. If any of that comes as a shock to you, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last decade or more.
What you might not have thought about, however, is that the ads themselves collect data. How many times has someone seen it? What kind of person (that pesky data that the aforementioned guys have) has responded to an ad, and how well do the ads translate to sales (lovingly called the conversion rate as if someone is changing religions…). As it turns out, there is a bit of a controversy about who actually owns that data: the advertiser or the agency. The marketers believe that they are the rightful owners while the agency folks believe just as strongly that they are. Neither side feels that the publishers who serve the ads and, therefore make data collection possible, have much of a claim to it. Of course, even publishers came out ahead of one other group as the rightful owners in the survey: consumers.
As you can see in the chart, only 10% of advertisers and 15% of agency respondents believed that consumers had a claim to their own information. That’s tragic. Why? Because it represents a mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. It can lead to legal problems at worst and consumers opting out (if they can figure out how) at best. What have the advertiser or the agency done to give the consumer value for the data? Nothing, in my mind. One could argue that the ads they serve make possible the content the consumer enjoys, but those very ads make that enjoyment nearly impossible given the state of ad-serving today, particular in mobile.
Unless and until we on the marketing side see the consumer as at least an equal partner in our business and not as a bunch of rubes or just as “data”, the problems with ad blocking, anti-spam rules, and other protective measures aren’t going to go away. What will go away are the people represented by the very data over which the agencies and marketers are fighting. You agree?
I read something the other day that made me sad and then angry. It’s the sort of thing that lessens my faith in humanity, although as I describe it you’ll probably just say I’m naive. It concerns the PPI business. What’s that? It stands for pay-per-install and the companies involved in it, some of whom are business names you’d know, are the scum of the digital earth in my book. Why is that?
First, what exactly is PPI? According to the folks at NYU who did some research on this topic with Google, commercial PPI is a monetization scheme wherein third-party applications — often consisting of unwanted software such as adware, scareware, and browser hijacking programs — are bundled with legitimate applications in exchange for payment to the legitimate software company. When users install the package, they get the desired piece of software as well as a stream of unwanted programs riding stowaway. It’s big business, with one outfit reporting $460 million in revenue in 2014 alone.
Ever installed a legitimate piece of software only to find your browser behaving strangely afterward? You get a barrage of advertisements on the screen, or a flashing pop-up warning of the presence of malware, demanding the purchase of what is often fraudulent antivirus software. On other occasions, the system’s default browser is hijacked, redirecting to ad-laden pages. The vendors of this crap will claim that you approved the installation of all the additional malware by clicking through the terms and conditions or forgetting to uncheck a box approving the install. Having had to remove this junk from both my family’s and friends’ computers I can tell you that that simple error can cost you may hours of diagnosis and repair, or a bit of money to purchase an anti-malware package.
But it gets worse. Today it’s just crapware, adware and the like. What happens when someone takes a check from someone who has more sinister intentions? Keyloggers and other spyware could just as easily be installed. As one article on the study pointed out:
The one-year study by Google and NYU Tandon School of Engineering of affiliate networks running pay-per-install programs (PPI) found that nearly 60% of offers bundled with these programs are flagged as unwanted, and that in aggregate drove 60 million weekly download attempts with tens of millions of installs detected in the last year. These sites can run ad injectors.
Tens of millions of installs a week. Hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands, and a conscience nowhere to be found. I’m not one to encourage government intervention in the digital realm but someone needs to shut these scum down before something catastrophic happens. It’s not all “Russian hackers” doing this. These “businesses” are about as close to criminal as one can get without being arrested. What are your thoughts?