You probably already knew this: YouTube is the second most visited website on the internet. In obvious first place is Google.com which also happens to be the parent/sister company of the world’s biggest video streaming site. YouTube has over 800 million videos (and growing) and gets over 17 billion visits per month (source), so saying they make a lot of money on that website off your eyeballs is putting it very mildly. The secret sauce, of course, is the algorithm that keeping must-see videos constantly into your viewing experience, and because it’s Google-powered, you can bet those engineers know exactly how build a data-driven, personalized algorithm that knows exactly what you want to see. Or does it?
One Algorithm to rule them all?
Based on the platform’s success and profitability it’s pretty clear that this algorithm is doing something right, but there is still plenty of criticism and scrutiny on YouTube’s content selection, especially in light of continuing misinformation problems plaguing all social media platforms. If you are a user of YouTube (statistically likely!) you are probably already familiar with the various tools you can use to supposedly tailor YouTube’s algorithm to only provide content aligned with your interests. There are even buttons to dislike, remove from recommendations, or report as misinformation, but according to research done by Mozilla Foundation (full disclosure: a non-profit research and advocacy organization that is funded by Firefox money and search engine royalties from Google, etc.), these buttons are essentially ineffective. My takeaway? YouTube is using the age-old marketing trick in offering the illusion of control, while still driving traffic to the videos and trends that make them the most money. The article is lengthy, but Mozilla helpfully provides an infographic summary that is a bit easier to digest and leads to the true reason they published these findings. In the end, Mozilla is an activist organization attempting to drill some transparency into the biggest content platforms. The only way this is going to happen is if enough people step up and ask for change. You don’t have to stop using YouTube, but recognizing their placebo controls might give you better insight into why true control over your feed feels elusive.
Image by Pablo Jimeno from Pixabay
I can count on one hand the number of people that have said to me, “There’s not enough stuff on Facebook!” without using any fingers (and she was new to Facebook). More often, I hear, “I can’t keep up,” or “I have to sort through a lot of fluff to find anything good.” According to an opinion piece published in Business Insider, Facebook appears to be collapsing under the weight of its market dominance that is only exacerbated by the ease of posting anything to their stream from just about any device. So take this fire hose of updates from everyone you know and add video advertisements that will automatically play as they appear (sound muted…for now).
Yep, Facebook is adding commercials to your already overflowing news stream.
What this means for you:
If you weren’t already avoiding Facebook, in-line video advertisements might just push you over the edge. Advertisers seem to be salivating at the prospect, with some analysts predicting 1-day 30-second spots costing millions of dollars, but with the potential of reaching billions of viewers. Seeing as Facebook can segment their users into just about any size demographic target, they may start carving up the ad space into more affordable chunks, giving us the social media equivalent of late-night cable community channel or local TV station commercials. I’m only guessing, but this might raise the banality factor a bit too high for most folks, and Facebook could continue to see an exodus of its highly-prized 18-24 demographic as they move on to more focused and less spammy social media platforms like SnapChat, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Last week, Google made a change to it’s widely used webmail platform Gmail: instead of asking if you want to “show images” in emails, Gmail will automatically display them by default instead of asking permission. This particular behavior is also seen in the other two webmail titans (Yahoo and Microsoft), as well as a common feature in mail clients like Outlook. Why aren’t images loaded by default? Primarily because when you open that email full of graphics and you actually want to see them, the mail client (or webpage) makes a request to the server hosting the images, which is usually the same server that sent the email in the first place.
If that sounds like a sneaky way to confirm that you’ve opened a particular email, that’s because it is. This process reveals certain data about the recipient, including date and time of opening, what browser or mail client you are using to view the email, as well as some rough geographical data about your location, based upon your IP address. So why is Google loading images by default? It’s because now they are caching the images to their own server, and then showing them to you, which effectively acts as a proxy between you and the sender, and blinds many marketers who were relying on the image requests to track you.
What this means for you:
Whether you realized it or not, your email client’s annoying tendency to not show you images in emails was actually in your best interests. Because displaying images required you to actively “opt in” by choosing to view the graphics, if that email was sent by a marketer, you sent them a nice packet of data and a positive affirmation that you saw the email, whether you intended to or not. With Gmail’s image caching, some of that data is no longer being unwittingly sent by its customers, however, notice that I wrote “some.” The more clever marketers out there (including Mailchimp, the service I use for my own email) tag email images individually, so they can still track opens, as Gmail still has to load the image to its servers before showing it to you. In my case, this is merely so I can tell if anyone is reading my newsletters, but even that one point of data is still valuable information to email marketers, and you can bet they will find other ways to track your online activity.
After four years of research and debate, the Federal Trade Commission has updated the Children’s Online Privacy Prevention Act with much stricter rules that hit internet advertisers right in the moneymaker. Written originally in 1998, COPPA was enacted to protect minors under the age of 13 by requiring any company collecting data on that demographic to adhere to strict privacy protection guidelines as well as putting well defined limits on advertising and marketing targeting minors. Since 2000, when it first went into effect, the internet and online advertising has changed significantly, and the FTC has amended COPPA, over the strenous objections from the industries affected.
What this means for you:
Whether you are a parent or an organization who markets to this particular demographic, you should take a moment to understand how COPPA may impact you. The new rules have been expanded in the following ways:
- The guidelines now include a wide range of digital media and devices, including smartphones, tablets, mobile gaming devices and mobile apps.
- The definition of “Personal Information” (previously only protected was the child’s name, address and email) has been expanded to cover a larger variety of data types including: geolocation, photos, videos, recordings, screen names and cookies. Just about anything that could be used to identify or track a child has been included.
- In the case of any organization collecting information without consent, parents and guardians have a right to receive a full description of what was collected on their child and also the right to have that info be deleted immediately.
- Targeted advertising that is based on a minor’s online data profile are no longer permitted without parental/guardian consent.
The trick, of course, is paying attention to what your child is doing online, and especially to what they are seeing onscreen. Advertisers are extremely clever, and this segment of the market is extremely valuable to them. The howls of protest will soon subside as they devise even more subtle ways to get parents to open up their wallets. Caveat Emptor!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In an announcement that surprised pretty much no one in the technology industry, Facebook frontman Mark Zuckerberg announced the arrival of both a Facebook application suite, dubbed “Facebook Home” as well as a phone from HTC called “First” that will have Facebook Home pre-installed. It’s not an operating system, like iOS or Android, nor is the “First” a dedicated Facebook phone. Facebook Home is really a set of apps (only for Android phones at the moment) that essentially makes your phone more like Facebook and less like Android.
What this means for you:
If you live and breathe Facebook (and millions of Americans do just that), then you’ll want to give this app a try, but only if you have an Android phone. iPhone users will be out of luck for the forseeable future, as Apple does not allow the sort of access to the base operating systen that Facebook Home requires. For those of you wondering why anyone would want such a thing on your smartphone, consider this: For many, the Android OS is overwhelming and complicated. They just want to make calls, answer email, and connect with friends. These users are looking for what’s known as a “Walled Garden” experience, very similar to the way AOL offered the “internet” to millions who weren’t interested in (or bewildered by) the unfiltered and un-curated experience of the 1990’s world wide web. You could think of Facebook Home as the new “AOL” for your smartphone.
One thing to keep in mind: Facebook’s revenue model is based upon knowing as much as they can about all of their users. By using Facebook Home, it’s conceivable that Facebook will harvest much more data about you, including location data and browsing habits above and beyond what they can collect while you are sitting at home in front of a computer. If you’ve been living your life on the internet and have nothing to hide, and you don’t mind Facebook mining your smartphone activity for marketing data, Facebook Home might just give you the Facebook phone you’ve always dreamed of.
The eagle-eyed internet has caught another dotcom company looking to cash in on its popularity (and recent integration with Facebook): starting on Jan 16, 2013, Instagram will be using a new Terms of Service agreement that allows it to use any content posted publicly to its service for marketing purposes.
“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata) and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”
Also important: this not only applies to users who have an account with Instagram, but also anyone’s likeness that appears in a user’s publicly posted photos can also be used as such. Wait, we’re not done: if you are a minor and you’ve accepted the new TOU, you acknowledge that your parent/guardian is aware of the TOU and tacitly accepts the above.
What this means for you:
If you aren’t in the business of making money off your likeness, or your subjects aren’t celebrities, or if you don’t care that Instagram/Facebook might make some money off your own likeness, then carry on. However, if you happen to care how your children’s likeness may be exploited, you may want to ask any snap-happy smartphone users to not post pictures of your children onto Instagram, or at minimum, make them aware of these TOU changes. You may be surprised at how many people aren’t aware of Instagram’s control over the content they think they own, and doubly surprised at the number of people who don’t care that they may be providing profit for company’s that provide free services.
Have you ever opened up Facebook and noticed an ad popping up on the right hand side that seems to be eerily similar to something you were looking at/shopping for on a completely different website? Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Facebook isn’t reading your mind – instead it’s reading your browser history for behavior that aligns with one of the thousands of different ads it offers on its new Facebook Exchange (FBX) advertising platform. This particular method is called “retargeting” and is similar to technologies used by Google and Yahoo in their ubiquitous ad platforms.
Prior to the launch of FBX, Facebook sold ads based upon its extensive demographic database – advertisers could target their ads across dozens of traits including geography, age, sex, marital-status, etc. – all based upon the data that it’s 1 billion users freely share with the service in their quest to stay connected with friends and family. This method allowed Facebook to generate nearly $5 billion in ad revenue a year, but since the launch of FBX and the use of retargeting, Facebook’s new shareholders have at least one piece of good news: FBX retargeting ads are proving to be much more effective that ads sold around all the demographic data it’s been gathering for years, which means that advertisers can expect to start paying a lot more for those clicks.
What this means for you:
Let’s face it: internet advertisements are here to stay, especially since people like getting things for “free.” The savvy among you know that nothing in life is ever free, and obviously we pay for these free services with our eyeballs, and on occasion, our patronage of an advertiser. As the folks at Facebook, Google and Yahoo continue to improve the accuraccy of their advertising platforms, you can count on ads will becoming so finely tuned to their viewers, it will be like the internet was a window on our heart’s very own desires. There are add-ons you can install in Firefox and Chrome (check out the ever-popular AdBlock Plus) that will block/hide advertisements, but as websites become increasingly dependent on advertising revenue to continue delivering “free” services they will continue to find ways to make viewing advertising unavoidable. In some cases, using an adblocker will make some sites completely unusable without a lot of fiddling with settings and whitelists. If you insist on drawing a hard line in the sand about being targeted, disabling cookies will go a long way to making it impossible for sites like Facebook to track your browsing behaviors, but it will also make surfing the web a constant barrage of password prompts, preference setting and other annoyances that cookies made bearable. You can also look at services like PrivacyFix which can help you understand and control the privacy settings for the more popular sites that track your browsing history.