Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Another View of the Facebook Privacy Problems

In the early days of the 20th century when radio was being established, the inventors and early advocates of radio couldn't understand how to make their invention work.  Who's going to pay for music brought into their house, even if it's a world class orchestra instead of something they could hear locally? Not just that, how could they arrange the payments?  Somehow the idea was born that radio could be "free" to users, except for buying the radio itself, if they could arrange sponsors to pay for the broadcasting.  The sponsors, in turn, got minutes out of every hour to sell their products. 

The result was the birth of interruption-based marketing in radio and that has penetrated to all the successors to radio: TV, and the Internet.  Virtually all of the marketing you're exposed to is interruption-based: commercials on radio, television or in a movie theater; junk mail in your physical mailbox; SPAM in your email inbox; and phone solicitors are all interrupting you to try to sell you something.

Why would anyone think that a computer user, who has just been looking at various websites, or who just found a result with a search engine would want to suddenly sit there for 30 seconds and look at a popup ad?  For that matter, why would anyone think cold calling sales contacts during the people's scant evening free time would be likely to catch someone wanting to drop what they're doing and listen to the call?

Isn't interruption-based marketing fundamentally rude?

The big problem marketers have is that interruption is being limited by technology: ad blockers, script blockers, SPAM filters, video recording to fast forward through commercials, telephone answering machines, and more are making it harder for them to interrupt us.  Good!  I've never bought anything by clicking on an ad, just as I've never bought anything from a door to door solicitor or someone who shows up at my door offering to do some sort of work around my yard.  I don't like being interrupted!

The alternative is called permission-based marketing, and it's just what its name implies.  In principle, it's like the "contact me" forms you may fill out, or the "it's OK to email me" box you have to check off to enter a contest.  Perhaps you're shopping for a car or appliance and you visit several places online.  You click a box giving them permissions and suddenly it's not SPAM anymore.  In the case of Facebook, it's implicit permissions. 

An extension of that is attraction marketing, trying to draw you to their product by offering things of value to you; perhaps gun reviews, tool reviews, or perhaps give away content or other things you find useful.  The idea is to attract you to the product rather than push that product on you.  (The CNC website I find I visit the most is CNCCookbook - the owner of that company is very good at this)

The root cause isn't Facebook, it's interruption-based marketing.  They're trying to refine everything a seller might want to know about you into a package that can be sold to advertisers.  They do that by mining everything you do or say on their site, and apparently wherever their tentacles reach on the 'net.  In any case, it's purpose is to refine and limit the number of companies who interrupt you. 

I'm a free enterprise guy, and I don't begrudge the companies trying to figure out who might want their products or services, but I jealously guard my time and don't want to be interrupted.  In turn, I don't want to interrupt other people.  I can easily put myself into the position of the company.  I only want to be contacted by companies I allow the privilege of contacting me, but how do I know I've allowed everyone who I really might like to hear from.  A company might say, "you allowed those guys to contact you, and our product is better!" 

Don't think I'm defending Facebook: I briefly had an account, but dropped it five years ago because I think they're a despicable company for the way they do things, like tracking people who don't even have an account there and who couldn't have given approval. That's not even considering how they silence conservative voices.  The root cause, though, is interruption-based advertising. That, it seems, is going to be with us for a long time. 


  1. Well put.

    The only way that Facebook can make money (for their stockholders) is to use data in a way that is profitable while the "Facebook Community" derives value from posting pictures of whatever. My sense is that if you agree to join that community, you agree to allow them to use your info, and I think that you click "agree" when you join. So what's the big dust up?

  2. It sounds like you've concluded that interruption-based marketing doesn't lead to sales, because you don't buy stuff in response to it, and you're typical.

    [Benevolent government will take care of you from cradle to grave]

    If your no-sales conclusion were true, then after the first six months of receiving no sales, advertisers would stop purchasing interruption-based marketing.

    [Socialism works if only the right people are in charge]

    Since interruption-based marketing must be driving sales, how does that actually work? What is this informational input is doing inside human brains?

    [Legislators are public servants and look out for your interests]

    Perhaps your analysis that you, personally, don't have your mental processes altered by the inputs received from your sense organs of hearing and sight, is incorrect. Perhaps if we insert brief pictures of soda and popcorn at a movie, you will tend to visit the concession stand more. Perhaps if an authority recognized by your family group tells you something when you are five years old, it will be stored and used mostly unexamined for the rest of your life. That's how human brain maturity gets its initial load of "facts", which are transmitted through culture rather than genes.

    [Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, supporting creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world.]

    Since we know subliminal advertising works, maybe non-subliminal advertising works, too. What "we" perceive as the "inner monologue" is mostly a summary of brain analysis decisions which have already occurred. Perhaps these lower brain levels are susceptible to factual distortions which are targeted at the lower brain levels' instinctual proclivities, and only the topmost rational layer is capable of discarding broken arguments which contain logical fallacies.

    [For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life]

    Perhaps the neural networks that make up these lower brain levels will get their neural weights reinforced and maintained as long as they are exposed to compatible messages for several hours one day a week, no matter what conclusions the top-level rational layer comes to.

  3. It sounds like you've concluded that interruption-based marketing doesn't lead to sales, because you don't buy stuff in response to it, and you're typical.

    No, I didn't mean to leave that impression, but I can see how I did.

    While I said, "interruption-based advertising ... it seems, is going to be with us for a long time. as an acknowledgement that it does work, that's not much. The paragraph I had written about how marketers budget the costs of the advertising vs. the expected return, the promise of the more targeted marketing Facebook is trying to sell, and other details seemed to be too long and too far removed from my main point, so I deleted it interest of not being a TL:DR post.

  4. When I first heard about data-driven marketing, it sounded like a good idea. I thought I was going to start getting offers for stuff I actually wanted or needed. It definitely hasn't worked that way.

    1. LOL - I know, right? I buy something from Amazon and their wonderful intelligent data-driven marketing offers me the exact same thing. "No, I just bought a pad sander that should last me forever, I don't need another one".

      If it had any sense, it could at least offer sanding pads. I don't need those either, but those are expendable. Or it could say, "you bought a sander, people who buy those buy finishing supplies" and offer that. Nope.

      Another one that kills me is Pinterest trying to match content and offer me things I'll look at. Some days they think I'm a 17 year old girl, offering me pictures of Tom Hiddleston and other guys popular with teen girls; the next day I they think I'm teenage boy and I get pictures of Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johannson. Meanwhile, I'm looking for pictures of engine models, not movie stars.