Todd "Turbo" Watson -- IBM Corporation
turbotodd 100000388Y Tags:  digitollywood facebook microsoft legal privacy 1 Comment 5,108 Views
It never fails.
Every time I catch a flight from Austin to NYC, or NYC back to Austin, some dramatic news is announced...or almost announced.
And I'm not talking about the kerfuffle around Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University (Remind me never to get introduced anywhere by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. Ouch!)
No, I'm referring to the story from The Wall Street Journal, and subsequent punditry in other parts of the blogomediasphere, that Microsoft was considering taking a significant stake in Facebook (up to 5%, according to the story).
Doggonit, and I was just getting to liking Facebook, too.
According to the Journal article, there's nothing less than the critical leverage point for the future of advertising online at stake:
"Whoever controls the technology platform for buying and selling online ads could hold tremendous power over the Internet industry for years to come -- much as Microsoft was able to use its Windows operating system to shape the personal computer."
Wow. And I just thought it was a really cool place to conduct surveillance on my online friends and tell everyone "Todd is not an ambassador attending the UN General Assembly while he's in NY this week, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn last night."
Didn't I mention a couple of weeks ago that Facebook would, in so many words, be providing the Internet Attorney's Full Employment Act of 2007 due to all the legal issues surrounding its business?
For example, yesterday's announcement by the New York Attorney General's office that it was subpoenaing Facebook about how it protects its users, particularly those under-age, after a recent undercover investigation suggested Facebook's advertising and statements to users about the safety of its site are "materially misleading."
And heck, all that before I even knew the Microsoft /Facebook M&A and anti-trust attorneys wing might have to be bolted on.
Hmm, maybe I should go to law school, after all.
turbotodd 100000388Y Tags:  nyc_taxi_strike google social_networking privacy facebook 1 Comment 4,738 Views
Hey, I feel for those of you in NYC today and tomorrow, what with the taxi drivers on strike and all.
What's most fascinating to me, though, is the rationale for the strike.
NYC wants its cab drivers to install GPS systems in their taxis, along with video screens and touch screen credit card processors.
The problem? These systems cost between $3000 and $5000, and an estimated of $100+ monthly fee, costs which taxi drivers fear they're going to shoulder most of the burden for.
Also of concern? The ability for taxi owners and dispatchers to follow the every move of their drivers via the GPS system.
"Hey Guido, what the ---- are you doing on the Gee Dubya when you oughta be out ta Newark by now?!!?"
My advice to visitors to NYC this week?
Get yourself a subway map, a bottle of water, and a Metro card, and don't be afraid to ask a New Yorker for directions.
Meanwhile, if you're concerned about being tracked via the Intertubes, normally privacy-friendly Facebook is making a really dumb move, one likely with the unadvertised intention of driving more subscriptions to its already fast-growing social network.
They announced on their blog overnight that they are making "limited public search listings" available to non-Facebook users.
That means soon you will be able to use Google and other search engines to find someone's Facebook profile.
To be fair, Facebook will allow one to control whether or not one's profile can be found via a public search
(Go here and uncheck the two boxes under the "Who Can Find Me in Search and See My Public Search Listing" section if you wish to be removed from public searches. I already have.).
But as Om Malik observes, this move turns Facebook into the "quasi-White Pages of the Web."
In so doing, they are diluting the power of an already very viral and useful social network in hopes of easily gathering compounded membership via the public search engines, and boosting their page views as they cast their eye towards the public markets.
Both of which I guess are hardly private affairs.
All I have to say to Facebook is that that is so 1999.
Or was that 1984?Read More]
Pardon my brief and sudden disappearance from the blogosphere, but I was in the NYC area last week, making some rounds and taking some meetings.
As fate would have it, I bumbled through Grand Central station about 70 minutes prior to the steampipe explosion on Lexington Avenue.
Thank heavens for cocktails with a colleague closer to Times Square.
If I was fortunate to miss the flying steam and wilting asbestos, I was also glad to see a longstanding personal belief vindicated: that in our new digital world, privacy would increasingly evolve into a competitive advantage.
First, there was Ask's introduction of "AskEraser," which allows users of the Ask search engine to erase their search history.
Prior to that, Google's reduction in retained data (from 2038 to 18 months) and its revised cookie expiration (from 2038 to 2 years...something advocates have rightfully pointed out is somewhat anemic: Are you going to stop using Google for two years so your cookie can expire just to have another one set? But hey, they're trying.)
And then today, MIcrosoft's announcement that it was introducing new policies and technologies to protect the privacy of users of its Live Search services.
Microsoft, along with Ask, have also announced their intent to initiate an industrywide initiative to establish standard practices for retention of users' search histories.
In spirit, I'm all for such initiatives -- the more dialogue about the sensitivity around and commercial exploitation of users' search histories, the better.
But The Wall Street Journal observes that the attempt to spearhead such an initiative "could be in part a reflection of their [Ask and Microsofts'] place in the industry, pointing out that both "lag far behind Google and Yahoo in Internet-search market share and thus have far less data about search behaviors than their rivals."
Such a clarion call for more privacy standards, the Journal suggests, "could indirectly limit Google's ability to use its vast stores of information to improve its services."
That may be so, but if, in the process of establishing some industry-wide standards, users' regain some control of their personal search histories, I would suggest all constituencies involved would be better off.
Privacy and search are a ticking time bomb.
It would likely only take the misused or misappropriated use of one high-profile U.S. politican's personal search information to start this whole thing tumbling into a legislative landslide.
Better to get ahead of the search privacy curve and establish some reasonable and mutually-beneficial rules of the road (which strike a balance between business and user) -- no matter the potentially misguided impetus.[Read More]
turbotodd 100000388Y Tags:  privacy google online_marketing voice_search grand_central 4,730 Views
"Calls recorded for quality."
That's the first thing you hear when you call into Google's voice search portal number, 1-800-GOOG-411.
But after hearing Google senior VP Marissa Mayer discussing its voice portal in more detail at last week's Searchnomics event in Santa Clara, and now after reading coverage of Google's acquisition of Grand Central overnight, a more comprehensive and strategic picture is beginning to emerge.
Google needs a few million of us to make contributions to its phoneme bank.
"Calls recorded for quality."
Uh-huh....and, phoneme analysis.
You know, those bits of language that constitute the theoretical representation of a sound which are critical building blocks for any good speech recognition capability.
And, more oxygen needed for the sprint to the mobile voice search recognition and results finish line against Microsoft.
Take a brief moment and flash back to Microsoft's acquisition of TellMe earlier this year, TellMe being a pioneer in 1-800 voice driven assistance and speech-to-Web capability.
As mentioned in a Reuters article at the time, "TellMe brings to Microsoft the world's largest database of voice-recognition data."
Realizing the import of that move (Microsoft using TellMe to drive its own voice and Web search integration), Google needed to exercise its own vocal chords and fast. Mayer admitted as much last week in Santa Clara.
What better way to collect even more phonemes to improve the algorithm than to buy a company (Grand Central) that has the ability record your phone calls and link you to a specific phone number!
Which brings us to the issue of privacy in the voice realm.
"If you do not have caller id blocked, we collect and store the number of your phone, along with the time of your call, each time you use the Google Voice Local Search service. We may use this phone number to distinguish you from other users, and ultimately, to personalize the service to you."
But there's more:
We also collect and store a copy of the voice commands you make to the service, so we can audit, evaluate, and improve the voice recognition capabilities of the service.
Calls recorded for quality and improved phoneme acquisition and analysis. The more phonemes, the better the GOOG 411 algorithm. Because the better the system gets at analysis, the higher the voice recognition rate.
Also, Google will now have the capability to analyze your voice print and potentially segment yours' from others.
Everybody wins. Users...advertisers and marketers (particularly those with a local bent).
But especially Google.
Because before too long, it will be Google which has the world's largest voice print database.
And then, the last mile of the Google personalized marketing juggernaut loop is closed.
Google will then have your single phone number (caller id recognizable), cookie, and voice print, along with a history of all your search queries and clickstream.
Throw in a few bat's heads and some mistletoe, and pretty soon you've got an extremely potent witches brew of information that makes marketers and advertisers salivate, and privacy advocates running for the Orwellian exits.
"Calls recorded for quality."[Read More]
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article about the dirty little secret behind "cookies," the files that many online advertisers, publishers, and advertising networks drop onto users' hard drives.
Such cookies can admittedly be useful to consumers (cookies help prevent you from having to log in to the same site over and over and over again), as well as to businesses trying to ascertain the number of "unique visitors" who visit their site.
But as the Times' article points out, the online ad measurement cookie starts to crumble before even getting out of the oven. Why?
Geeks like me delete their cookies on a fairly regular basis. Some 7.1 percent of geeks, according to a comScore panel survey conducted late last year.
We're known as "serial deleters" (I'm not even going to go there), but unfortunately for advertisers, we account for a "grossly disproportionate" share of the ad server traffic, having received some 35.3 percent of the total number of cookies observed in the study.
So after reading this piece yesterday, I laughed out loud today when I saw this Wall Street Journal article today about "behavioral targeting" (registration required).
In summary, the article explains how many big advertisers are turning to behavioral targeting -- using cookie-based targeting across a large swath of different Web sites to try and target a specific demography with online ads -- to try and create more efficient and effective online advertising buys.
The problem is, they're very likely way overcounting the number of actual unique visitors out there, which means advertisers are paying to reach a bunch of "unique visitors" who aren't very unique at all!
Turbo Thought: Target geeks like me who frequently delete their cookies. Even though every other demography you're targeting could be completely miscalculated due to this 30+ percentage differential, you'll know for sure you're getting to the "serial deleter" demographic!
Fresh cookies all around!
All of this becomes even more amusing when you think about the size of the recent deals in this space -- Google paying $3.1B for DoubleClick, Microsoft acquiring aQuantive for $6 billion, WPP paying $649 million for 24/7 -- businesses all apparently constructed atop a fragile cookie measurement foundation.
As Cookie Monster himself would say, "Me love Santa's cookies!"
And Google's, and DoubleClicks, and everybody else's!!!
Cookies everywhere and all over the world and for everybody!!![Read More]
IBM announced today it has entered into an agreement to acquire Watchfire Corporation, a privately held security and compliance testing software company based in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Online security and privacy incidents continue to pose a risk to Internet communications and commerce. According to a 2005 CSI/FBI Survey, internal security attacks cost U.S. businesses alone $400 billion per year.
Watchfire's technology is expected to help reduce security risks and the threat it poses to customers and the bottom line alike by extending IBM's governance risk management strategy, implementing broad security and compliance capabilities and integrating them into the software development lifecycle.
This will allow customers to define, test, and track the compliance of their applications with security, legal and corporate requirements.
Just last week on a call with my extended team I was reviewing the new Google Street View capability, and explaining the reaction many had had to it from a privacy perspective.
During my conversation with the team, I had mentioned that it would likely only be a matter of time before concerns were raised around the use of such information by terrorists for the planning of their heinous crimes.
Then lo and behold, this tidbit falls over the transom from the CNET "News Blog" stating that the JFK terror plotters used Google Earth to obtain detailed aerial photographs of JFK airport.
According to a court document, the blog reports, one of the four defendants indicated that one of their surveillance videos was not sufficiently detailed for operational purposes, which is when they allegedly resorted to Google Earth instead.
While a Google statement from earlier today highlighted the attention that its Google Earth team has paid to security risks posed by its satellite imaging tool, and that they're not the only player in this market, CNET's Caroline McCarthy also points out that such tools "certainly do make it easier for a would-be terrorist to obtain such maps anonymously."
I would expect this turn of events to lead to at some further public debate and deliberation (perhaps in the U.S. Congress?) about the implications of anonymous access to such valuable satellite imagery online.
Our collective safety and security might well depend on it.[Read More]
Monty the cat would prefer to remain anonymous.
Or, at least, her owner, Mary Kalin-Casey, would.
Because with Google's new "Street View" feature, the Google cameras were able to get a street-level view of her building in San Francisco, and when Mary zoomed in on the picture, she was able to see her cat, Monty, sitting on a perch in her living room window.
I sense a Hitchcock move in the making: "Rear Window," Google style.
Google keeps saying it takes privacy seriously, yet it seems to keep making moves that evidently ignore people's privacy concerns.
Read more in the New York Times story.[Read More]
The Pew American and Internet and Life Project continues to deliver useful and insightful reports about human behavior and our use of the Internet.
In its most recent report, entitled "Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks: How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace," some key memes emerge which should provide parents and other relatives (especially the older ones who didn't grow up with the Web) regarding their increasing savvy about both the risks and opportunities presented by the digital media.
Lead sound bytes:
They observed from a 2000 report that teens had embraced instant messaging and other online tools, and by 2004 in another major study had taken to blogging and a wide variety of content creation activities:
"Teens who adopted these tools were no longer only communicating with text, but they were also developing a fluency in expressing themselves through multiple types of digital media -- including photos, music and video."
Social networking continues to drive the evolution of teens' use of the Internet, and this latest Pew report indicates that teens themselves are increasingly astute about their identities and release of personal information online. But continued vigilance and education on the part of parents and guardians of teens online are key to continuing that evolving savvy.
You can download the report directly here.[Read More]
Google's search guru Matt Cutts doth protest too much in a recent post about privacy and Google's Web History feature.
But in light of the impending GoogleClick merger, it's understandable, and I appreciate his attempt to set the record straight about what Google does and doesn't do with the personal information it gathers on my behalf as I Google my way around the planet.
As an example, Matt points out that Google will anonymize my queries after 18-24 months, so that my PII can't be associated with my queries beyond that time frame.
He also points out that my ISP has much more information about me than Google does...it's the ISP that keeps all the IP addresses I visit (and which can also be legally verified with a credit card.)
And hey, ISPs even sell my information. Shocker!
But it was never Google that I was concerned about when it came to the abuse of my clickstream data or search history.
It was the U.S. Department of Justice.
Or my future employer.
Or my health maintenance organization.
Or anybody else whose business none of it ever was but whom might, someday, want to get access to the aggregate digital footprints I've left strewn about (even if only for the past 18-24 months).
That's where the Tropical SEO chimes in, explaining something I was saying to anyone who would listen as far back as 1999: That privacy protection would someday become a cherished competitive feature/function in the new digital milieu.
It seems that day has arrived. Tropical writes:
"At a certain point, search relevancy is a relative commodity, and other priorities are going to determine whether searchers hang their hats. For millions of searchers out there, the overriding "other priority" is privacy....I believe that switching costsare higher than most people commonly think for a search user; at thispoint the only thing that would make me switch my homepage and defaultsearch to Live or Ask would be if they became “the privacy engine” (e.g. take Google’s anonymizing to a new level–2 weeks?–and set a much shorter cookie, etc.)"
Privacy as cherished competitive advantage is also why you're also seeing companies such as "LifeLock" starting to secure $6M in Series B funding from the likes of Kleiner Perkins.
Because identify theft prevention is now a matter to take on offense, not defense, and there are now over 100K LifeLock customers paying $10 a month to help ensure that their identity stays their own.[Read More]