Tag Archives: AOL

Tracking The Trackers

Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day, another web site (well, portal in this case) comes out in favor of ignoring the express wishes of its user base.

AOL‘s new privacy policy states that it will not honor the do-not-track requests that users send through their browsers. I’ve written about this before and as someone who is very customer-focused, I can’t understand this decision.

Here is how one of the companies (the Network Advertising Initiative) administering a Do Not Track program explains it:

NAI members are committed to transparency and choice. The NAI opt-out tool was developed in conjunction with our members for the express purpose of allowing consumers to “opt out” of the Interest-Based Advertising delivered by our members…Following an opt out, (members)… cease collecting and using data from across web domains owned or operated by different entities for the purpose of delivering advertising based on preferences or interests known or inferred from the data collected (Interest Based Advertising or IBA).

Pretty clear.  The  browser you’re using right now probably offers do-not-track headers, which tell publishers and ad networks that you don’t want to be tracked. But the header doesn’t actually prevent tracking. Instead, ad networks and publishers are free to ignore the signals. Of course, when you combine users opting in to the do not track program with them setting their browser to tell sites that they do not wished to be tracked, you’d have to be pretty dumb not to get the message.  Yet of all the hundreds of sites out there, only 21 have committed to implement this program and only 2 (Twitter and Pinterest) are what I would consider major sites.

In AOL’s case, as is the case with Yahoo and damn near every other publisher, they get the message.  They’re just ignoring it.  They use excuses like “no one else is honoring them” or “the standards aren’t set yet for what can and can’t be tracked.” I read that as “our business interests supersede your desire not to receive targeted ads.”  This is short-sighted and will, I believe, result in more users doing as I do:  blocking analytics, ads, and everything else publishers use to make the content they offer better for the user.

As someone who works with clients to make money off of their digital efforts I know how vital data is.  I grew up in the ad business so I support free content paid for by your attention to ads.  But the value exchange needs to be transparent.  I think there is a huge potential for backlash as what and how users are being tracked, as well as what’s done with their data, reaches the mainstream.  What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?


One of the themes we touch upon here is the repeating nature of events.  Or as Peter Allen put it, everything old is new again (so much so that Barenaked Ladieswrote a song by the same name).

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Today’s meditation on this concerns Facebook, or rather an interesting bit of research that came out from the AP and CNBC concerning Facebook’s future.  They conducted the poll in anticipation of Facebook going public and my immediate reaction was AOL‘s trajectory morphing to MySpace‘s morphing to…???   The AP piece summed it up with this question:

Is Facebook A Fad?

You’re laughing?  46% of the poll respondents believe Facebook  will fade away as new companies come along, and it’s not just the old farts – younger adults are no more apt than their older counterparts to expect Facebook’s long-term success; 51 percent think it will fade.

For those of us who have been in digital since the start of the commercial era, it’s not a weird question.  Fifteen years ago, one would have asked the same of AOL and could not have imagined that it would pretty much be a blip.  The rise and fall of MySpace is much more recent but illustrative.  So quit your laughing and think about how the nature of the beast is changing.  Facebook is going from a company built to attract and service folks like you and me to a company that’s built to attract and service marketers.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing except that Facebook seem to be bad at it.

You might have read that General Motors is pulling its advertising from Facebook.  That’s a $10 million deal — not massive in terms of value — but very embarrassing for the social network because apparently it was too hard for GM to quantify their ROI.  The poll data supports that thinking – 57% of users say they never click on ads or sponsored content, while 26 percent “hardly ever” click on them.

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.
  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.
  • Even among the site’s most frequent users — those who use it multiple times a day —half say they would not feel safe making purchases through the site.

There’s another great analysis from Forrester here and I’m sure more will be written as Facebook’s IPO happens later this week.  So is Facebook a fad?  I’ll let you respond via the comments, but my thinking is that while “fad” might not be the right term, it’s definitely not invulnerable.  Given the underlying concerns from users and marketers, someone ought to spend an hour reviewing the history of AOL and recall that MySpace went from “the most popular site in the US” in 2006 to losing half its traffic between 2009 and 2010.  What’s your thinking?

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Filed under digital media

Back To The Garden

Remember the song “Woodstock“? Joni Mitchell wrote it, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young made it famous. One lyric is

We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.


Image via Wikipedia

I thought of that last night as I listened to an excellent discussion of Google+ and Facebook at the tech meet-up I attend monthly. What does one have to do with the other? Continue reading

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