Mediocracy’s Reality: Economist special issue

The current issue of The Economist contains a special report on Advertising and Technology called Little Brother, edited by Alexandra Suich.  Without a subscription, they will only give you access to the leader article, but I found very useful discussions throughout about the ways in which our behavior has become digital labor, able to be collected, analyzed and shared to provide revenue streams to innumerable shadow companies without our faintest awareness.  A few of my favorite tidbits from this special issue follow; all of them show that we are well on our way to what I call Mediocracy, when our digital and physical trails will, together, turn us ever so gradually into automatons at the call of algorithms with the power to build nearly ideal remote control units for every one of us.

most marketers say they have seen more change in the past two years than in the previous 50.

Richard Edelman, the boss of Edelman, a public-relations firm, describes the media and advertising business as a “mosh pit.” Media companies are producing more content on behalf of advertisers, dubbed “native advertising.” At the same time some advertisers have taken to hiring their own journalists to produce stories, websites and videos.

Facebook and Twitter accumulate heaps of information, including ages, friends and interests, about people who sign up for accounts and spend time on sites. Some of it is collected without users being aware of it. For example, Facebook’s “Like” and Twitter’s “Tweet” buttons on other websites carry a code that enables the social-networking companies to track users’ movements even if they do not click those buttons…

BlueKai, for example, compiles around 1 billion profiles of potential customers around the world, each with an average of 50 attributes.

According to TRUSTE, the 100 most widely used websites are monitored by more than 1,300 firms. Some of these firms share data with other outsiders, an arrangement known as “piggybacking.”

RadiumOne, an advertising-technology company, puts cookies on users, normally unbeknown to them, when they click on a weblink sent by a friend.

PubMatic, a firm that helps publishers sell advertising space in real time, provides some 50-70 data points about users on desktops and around 100 on mobile, including the mobile device’s precise position.

Credit Card companies, including Visa, MasterCard and American Express, all sell anonymised data about their cardholders to advertising companies…American Express has an edge..because it actually issues the card enabling it to put cookies on users when they log in to check their statements and see where else they go online.

Companies are also keen to connect the offline and online worlds. Facebook, for example, has joined with Datalogix, a data provider, to link purchases in both spheres. Acxiom, one of the largest data brokers with expertise in the offline world, recently paid more than $300m to buy LiveRamp, a firm that helps match offline data about customers with online information.

Sometimes advertisers do not use information they have because they do not want to look as though they are spying on customers. “We can do more technologically than we’re permitted to culturally…”

Google and Facebook alone controlled over 47% of all digital advertising in America last year, according to eMarketer, and over 57% of mobile advertising.

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