Big corporations collect a lot of data, don’t know how to use it

So we’ve learned that the government now has access to a lot of the data that big corporations have been collecting for many years. Let’s step back for a moment from the recent revelations about the government’s access to this data and consider some of what the private sector has been collecting about us, and what they’ve been unable to do with it.

I just got back from the Giant supermarket, where I used my bonus card to purchase a couple cases of water.

“Be sure to take your bags and your receipt,” the electronic voice said at the self-checkout, “and any special coupons that may have been printed just for you.”

Those special coupons are a crude example of “data-mining.” Giant keeps a record of what gets bought with our bonus card account and every once in a while the register spits out a coupon for something we regularly buy there.

Exhibit A: Big corporations collect a vast amount of data about us. And then they ignore it and give us ads like these instead.

This database is apparently bigger than just Giant, because twice now the supermarket has given us coupons for epsom salts. We don’t buy those at Giant, because they don’t carry the lavender scented ones the ‘vixen likes for baths. The only place that carries those around here is Rite Aid, where we buy them using our Rite Aid bonus cards. So our pharmacy and our supermarket seem to be in cahoots, sharing the consumer data they’re both collecting on us.

I suppose that counts as an erosion in privacy. Using these affinity bonus cards means we sacrifice the ability to shop anonymously, in exchange for which we are “rewarded” with modest discounts on prescriptions from the pharmacy and with “bonus points” that can be redeemed for discounted gas at the Giant with the gas station (all the way out in Phoenixville — worth the hike once we’ve collected $1.20 off per gallon).

I’m not terribly concerned about Giant and Rite Aid acting as Big Brother, though, since it’s also clear that they’re not particularly nimble or efficient at mining all of the data they’ve collected from our household purchases. We still get junk-mail fliers and circulars from both chains — undifferentiated bulk mailings identical to the ones sent to all of our neighbors. And the various “special coupons printed just for you” are often just generic manufacturer discounts on whatever new product is currently being hyped.

Considering the massive amount of data these companies have collected about our shopping habits and all the patterns and inferences and conclusions that might theoretically be drawn from that data, I’m generally unimpressed with their ability, desire or ambition for “mining” all that they might learn about us from the information we’re allowing them to collect.

And Giant is hardly alone. Most of my consumer data is being collected by huge corporations, and most of them seem to have little or no idea what to do with all that data.

My cellphone service comes through Verizon’s family plan. That provides them with a vast amount of data about my connections, relationships and daily movements that could, theoretically, allow them to know everything about me. (Cue ominous background music.) Yet apparently either Verizon hasn’t figured out any way to effectively monetize such information, or else they’re simply not capable of or not inclined to do so.

Again, look in the mailbox. Almost every day brings another piece of direct-mail advertising from Verizon — all of it generic bulk mail, identical to the generic bulk mailings sent to everyone else for whom Verizon has managed to collect a valid address. Some of those mailings don’t even seem to recognize that we’re already Verizon customers — a significant piece of “data” that the company shouldn’t even need to “mine.”

Most of those Verizon mailings are about Fios — hoping to lure our family away from Comcast, the “service provider” with which we have an Xfinity “triple play” bundle of services providing our broadband Internet, cable TV and landline telephone service. (I don’t know the landline number and we don’t have an actual phone plugged into any phone jack in our house.)

Comcast, in theory, could also know everything about me. (Dum dum dummmm!) Every website I visit. Every email I send or receive. Every channel I tune into or show I watch “on demand.” I’m certain that Comcast — like Giant, Rite Aid and Verizon — is collecting all of that data, yet again I see no evidence that they have any idea, intention or capability to put any of it to meaningful use. See again the flood of generic bulk-mail advertising. Or see the generic, same-as-everyone-else’s ads on our TV and in our browsers.

This last example is particularly notable, since this is where it seems like data-mining ought to be easily monetized. But they’re not taking advantage of that readily available data on their cable and Internet subscribers. Our interface with cable TV and with the Internet doesn’t change over time, tailoring itself to our habits and patterns of use. The potential is there, but for whatever reason — inefficiency, incompetence, expense — it remains untapped.

I watch an episode of Doctor Who “on demand.” Every ad break plays the same ad, for a diabetes monitor. I watch another episode of Doctor Who, and another, and another. By doing so, I’m supplying Comcast with data — useful, potentially marketable data. A Doctor Who fan lives here. And yet the ads for the on-demand episodes never change. This despite the fact that the data readily available from Rite Aid and Giant clearly shows that no one in my household is diabetic.

Either Comcast is privy to some study showing a high correlation between the occurrence of diabetes and a fondness for British sci-fi, or else I have to conclude that Comcast sucks at data mining.

They’re not alone. Most big companies suck at data mining. They’re all collecting massive, potentially intrusive, amounts of data about all of us, but they don’t seem to have any idea how to use it.

Want another example? I no longer work for a newspaper. Like tens of thousands of other former newspaper editors, reporters, photographers and staff, I was laid off. I was laid off, in part, because huge media companies don’t have the slightest clue what to do with the consumer data they’re collecting about their readers. That, in turn, means that online ad revenue for newspapers is a paltry fraction of print ad revenue, and so, for newspapers, growing online readership has meant a steady loss in income.

The paper I worked for is owned and operated by the biggest newspaper chain in the world. It’s the biggest paper in Delaware, and the only daily paper for most communities in that state. But most of its online advertising has nothing to do with Delaware — and even less to do with the particular concerns and interests of any regular individual reader.

“Bob” visits Delawareonline every day. And the first thing he checks, every day, is the high school sports section, where he checks to see how Salesianum did. Bob is supplying the paper with data. What do we now know about Bob? Well, he’s a sports fan. He’s probably Catholic. And he’s probably got either a son or a nephew in high school.

Yet what ads appear when Bob checks every day for the latest scores and highlights on the Sals? Does Bob see ads targeted to appeal to him as a sports fan, or as a Catholic, or as the parent of a teenager? No. He sees the same generic click-whore ads for dubious weight-loss schemes that you’ll find anywhere else on the Internet.

Which is why Bob doesn’t visit Delawareonline as much as he used to. Because the budget for stringers to cover high school sports got slashed after the last round of layoffs.

So again, almost every big corporation you deal with is collecting data about you. A lot of data. And yet almost every one of those companies is absolutely terrible about figuring out what to do with any of that information.

That shouldn’t mean that all of this data-collection isn’t still disturbing. We’re making a precarious bargain with all of these companies, accepting “special coupons” or cool new wireless or Internet features in exchange for providing them with massive amounts of information about our interests, expenses, patterns and relationships. But to some extent we’ve all been lulled into not worrying that they will abuse this access to our information simply because they’ve been so incompetent at using any of it.

Corporate incompetence shouldn’t be the only safeguard against such abuse.

And now, of course, we’ve learned that government agencies like the NSA have gained access to all of this data the corporations have been collecting and compiling. The NSA, we assume, has more ambitious plans for mining this data than retailers and service providers apparently did. And unlike the corporations, the NSA won’t be put off from doing so by any difficulties in making such a scheme profitable.


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  • mudlock

    They’re not ALL incompetent.

    In fact, now they’re working on appearing a bit less competent, so as not to alarm people.

    Maybe you should check and see if someone in your family has diabetes…

  • Touchdown Al

    Perhaps most relevant:

    “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

    “And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

  • MaryKaye

    I had occasion to write to my home-insurance company once to say, “It impresses me that you guys know (without ever asking me, as far as I can recall) that I don’t smoke, have cats but no dogs, and earned a post-graduate degree. On the other hand it surprises the HECK out of me that you guys, with all your data right at hand, keep sending ads for car insurance to a household that does not own a car, in the name of a person who has never had a driver’s license in her life! Please stop!”

    To their credit, they did stop (on the second request, if I recall correctly). But they had been sending those ads literally weekly if not more often for *months*. A total waste. I am never going to buy car insurance. I don’t think I *could* since I don’t know how to drive.

    Not as bad as the Internet ads, though. They keep trying to sell my computer program (which has its own web site) penile enhancement techniques.

  • P J Evans

    I’d start to wonder what the computer program was doing when I wasn’t around.

  • Ross

    I once wrote a letter to AARP explaining that I’d be happy to join their organization when I reached the age of eligibility in the year 2029.

    (Protip: Do not name your child [yourname] jr.. The Jr will get lost from time to time. And no, I do NOT need medicaid supplemental insurance. No, really. I’m not just lying to get you to stop calling me.)

  • Carstonio

    I received an invitation to join 24 years before I was eligible.

  • Sylvia

    I get about one letter a week from them, and I won’t be eligible to join until the mid 2030s. I’m not even a Jr. I also have a company who is convinced I really, really need a walk-in bathtub.

    This is what happens when you buy things from medical supply companies. I just wanted some fancy first aid equipment!

  • Lunch Meat

    Best piece of advice I can give for online shopping: as tempting as it can be to buy sex toys online so you don’t have to make eye contact with anyone at the local shop, DON’T DO IT. Husband bought me some special presents for my birthday, and now we get sexually explicit material* about once a month. He hates it more than I do; I just think it’s funny.

    *Original comment apparently spam-trapped because I used the p-word.

  • Lliira

    It sounds like he bought it from a not very reputable company. That has never happened to me. Hell, I ran a sex blog and never got any sexually-related spam.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Seconding what Lliira said. I’ve ordered plenty of that sort of thing online before and never had an issue.

    The Save the Manatees charity I donate to, on the other hand…

  • Sylvia

    Amazon, all the way. As long as you remember to clear those special items out of your recommendations queue, you’re fine.

    Of course if you don’t, you might find yourself with some interesting target banner ads on other websites…

  • Lori

    Good Vibrations is also good about it, as are a number of other companies. It’s really not good business for a business that sells something that most folks prefer to keep private to sell it’s mailing list. It pretty much guarantees a very low rate of repeat business.

  • Lliira

    Babeland, Early 2 Bed, Tickle: also good. Early 2 Bed I can vouch for very strongly, the owner is totally awesome and does not even allow toys with misogynist copy in her shop.

    Do not shop at EdenFantasys. The “why” would take an incredibly long and disgusting time to explain. I don’t know if they re-sell customer info, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  • phantomreader42

    I’ve got you beat by a year, they started sending me invites a full quarter-century before the eligible age. And I’m not a Jr.

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    My own AARP invitations started arriving when I was in my mid-twenties.

    The ones I laugh at most are the telephone spammers calling to tell me I can get my interest rate on my home loan and credit cards reduced – even though I rent an apartment and have no credit cards. (And of course these folks are calling me even though my number is in the do-not-call registry – I haven’t been patient enough to try and figure out who they are in order to report them).

  • fredgiblet

    All I ask is that you keep in mind that the sales monkey who’s actually making the call isn’t at fault. They’re probably sitting in front of a computer that gave them 2 seconds after the last person hung up before beeping and connecting them to you and no matter how happy they sound they probably hate their job with a burning passion.

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    There’s no sales monkey on these calls – purely recorded.

  • dpolicar

    My usual theory is that the best thing I can do for these benighted souls is hang up quickly so as to not fuck up their statistics, so I generally talk right over their script as soon as I identify it to say “Sorry, not interested; have a nice day” and hang up. Not exactly polite under typical circumstances, but I can’t think of anything better under those circumstances.

  • fredgiblet

    That is indeed usually the best. I’m lucky enough to be on an inbound contract (though not lucky enough to support a product that works.) but I’ve talked to people on outbound contracts and the people they have to deal with are horrendous at times.

  • Lliira

    We kept getting calls offering siding. We live in an apartment. We did report them, however, and they stopped.

  • aklab

    Ha. My daughter got an AARP invitation in the mail when she was four years old.

  • christopher_y

    Not as bad as the Internet ads, though.

    Ain’t that the truth. Yesterday on Le Livre des visages a friend of mine noted that he was being a “High Net Worth Divorce”. He’s never been married in his life. And today I am invited to buy sexy ladies’ underwear; I’m male, 62 and overweight, so I might pass on that.

  • AnonymousSam

    And today I am invited to buy sexy ladies’ underwear; I’m male, 62 and overweight, so I might pass on that.

    Hasn’t stopped some people I know! ~_^

  • DavidCheatham

    American Express has become convinced I might be interested in their Personal Savings account. They send me snail mail asking me to sign up about once a month.
    Do you know how American Express has my name and address? I’m not entirely sure, I’ve never had a credit card with them. In fact, they must have gotten it from the _one_ service I’ve ever had with them: My current American Express Personal Savings account.

  • Carstonio

    The difference between private information in corporate hands versus government hands is that the latter institution belongs to the citizens and is accountable to them. Data-mining of phone calls is still an invasion of privacy, just as much as if the government listened in on the conversations. I don’t doubt that the shopping data is just as vulnerable to abuse by amoral companies, but offhand I’m having trouble coming up with scenarios where it could be exploited against individuals – maybe health products used as evidence of pre-existing conditions?

  • Ross

    You don’t really need to go as far as “preexisting conditions”. Insurance companies can use literally whatever they like to determine your rates (excluding several specifically enumerated categories). Suddenly, everyone who buys too many Ding-Dongs goes into the “High risk of heart attack” group.

  • Lori

    The cost of my ex’s insurance increased by almost as high a percentage when he moved to a new zip code as it did when he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

  • PorlockJunior

    (Probably not needing to apologize for going all techie in this company…)
    Gee, if their statistical experts had ever hear of the Bayes Theorem, they’d know what anyone’s common sense will show: moving into a different neighborhood is highly unlikely to increase health risks, whatever the reason (apart from rampant murder or somethng) for the difference in average health risks in the neighborhoods.

    So, why be so stupid as to make this change, which could drive away a customer?

    Duh, they operate in what bears almost no resemblance to a Free Market ((R) a trademark of Smith & Ricardo) economy. Hardly any of their fellow oligopolists have the brains to compute the rates more accurately, and if they did, the customers probably couldn’t find them. Which is why they don’t need to have, or at least to use, the brains.

    Courtesy of LWATSQ.

  • Carstonio

    An insurance company might have direct access to data on health product purchases if the policyholders have flexible spending accounts. But for purchases of Ding Dongs, it would have to buy the data from Giant or Safeway or other stores with bonus cards. Probably not that difficult.

    As someone who’s used bonus cards, I admit I need to know more about how the companies use the data. At the same time, I recognize that it’s a transaction – I’m allowing the stores to track my spending habits in exchange for lower prices. I suspect that folks on the lower end of the economic scale are more likely to participate in these programs.

    My main concern is if the purchasing data could be used for political agendas. Imagine fundamentalists using the data to guess orientation or marital status, and then harassing LGBT folks or single women who are sexually active.

  • Wedneday

    “My main concern is if the purchasing data could be used for political agendas. Imagine fundamentalists using the data to guess orientation or marital status, and then harassing LGBT folks or single women who are sexually active.”

    Yes, this. Heck, they might even just use it to predict who will vote against their chosen candidate (I’m going to bet that at least regionally, some types of purchases correlate with politically affiliation — especially as portions of US Republican party have been opposed to things like energy-efficient _lightbulbs_.)

    By the way, I know Disqus is screwy and changing things at a drop of a hat, but does anyone know how to italicize things in comments (eg, another person’s comment you’re replying to)? The usual em tags don’t seem to work.

  • EllieMurasaki

    i tags. Not the preferred method, but it seems to work.

  • Tofu_Killer

    I don’t know how to break this to you, but the politicians are way ahead of you on this and have been for several political cycles now.
    You target some people for get out the vote and fundraising drives. Others are targeted with push polling, voter suppression and misinformation actions, and negative ads.
    All of that is already being done using data from the consumer profile agencies. I would even guess that political campaigns are among the biggest purchasers of the aggregate info.

    Obama’s campaign was especially aggressive on this front, and is now being touted as a model for corporate advertising strategies.

  • Wednesday

    I’m well aware of voter suppression efforts even just based on skin color and party registration, which don’t require much data mining to detect (just look at census records and election returns by precinct). I was thinking of oppression _beyond_ voter suppression, as Carstino worried about happening to LGBTs and other groups fundamentalists don’t like.

    I’m not sure how truly sophisticated some of the campaign-related data mining you mention is, mind you. I still got “vote for Republican candidate Bob McDouchebag, he hates gays and doesn’t believe in climate change! The democratic candidate believes in climate change and doesn’t hate gays!” and “Vote to protect marriage from the evil gays” mailings addressed to my name, even though there are any number of easy, public sources of information that I would’ve expected them to mine to know who to leave off their list for such mailers (eg, a public list of people who pledged to support marriage equality in the state).

    The pro-gay-marriage folks also kept trying to contact me at my parents’ house, even though that had not been my legal residence for years and I gave them my current address directly.

  • Carstonio

    I reverted to i tags, even though these has been deprecated for a while in HTML.

  • AnonymousSam

    especially as portions of US Republican party have been opposed to things like energy-efficient _lightbulbs_.)

    … Including some of the voter base. My parents had a brief rant about the evils of not being “allowed” to buy their light bulbs of choice. Never mind that this hasn’t stopped them from buying their light bulbs of choice. At all. Because it doesn’t. At all. Any excuse to rant about “the n— in the White House”…

  • Sue White

    Heck, if you’re driving to my neighborhood to buy gas anyway, you might as well go down the street another quarter mile to Walgreens. Where I’m pretty sure we have lavender scented epson salts. And a full-time spot that just opened up. (No kidding, they could use the help now!)
    I was under the impression that the credit card company was supplying a lot of that data as well.
    Sometimes when I sign up people for the store card, they’re a little spooked by the fact that their info is already in the system. Usually it’s because they bought either drugs or photos there, but sometimes they can’t remember ever giving the store any business before.

    I kind of hope companies *don’t* get better at data-mining. Actually, sometimes I feel like *I* know a little too much about the shopping habits of customers that I see all the time. I could be doing my own data mining if I really wanted to.

  • Ross

    Given that they’re going to mine data anyway, them data mining successfully can in some cases be to our mutual advantage (For instance, Amazon frequently offers me discounts on things I might actually want to buy.). If they do data mining poorly, it will generally only be to my disadvantage. If they’re going to use my data to hurt me, it’s in my best interest that I’m damned for what I am, rather than for a flaw in their algorithm. (It is bad if my insurance charges me extra because I buy too much fatty food. It is worse if my insurance charges me extra because they think I smoke when I don’t)

  • Sue White

    Yes, I think there are good and bad things about it. I wouldn’t mind getting an ad that just featured things I am likely to buy – it would be much quicker to read. And in some ways this sort of targetting is what I do on a smaller scale, like when a certain customer comes through the door, and I just grab a pack of his usual brand of cigarettes and ring it up, because that’s practically all he ever buys there. Or when I see someone who I know has a dog, and I mention that’s there’s some dog food on clearance. But I doubt people would find that as creepy since they see me all the time. It’s hard to be anonymous at the neighborhood drug store. :-)

  • rrhersh

    ” I wouldn’t mind getting an ad that just featured things I am likely to buy – it would be much quicker to read”

    Really? I am serenely confident that 99%+ of all ads are for stuff I’m not likely to buy, and hence barely glance at them. There are websites I read regularly where I have to click through an ad to read the content. I honestly don’t know what the ads are for. They never make it that far forward in my brain. So how do I know I wouldn’t be interested? On those occasions I actually notice, I have yet to see any evidence of the brave new world of targeted ads I am interested in. I am willing to take the risk of missing its genesis.

  • Sylvia

    It’s a hazard of retail work. I have a friend who works in the jewelry business who had to deal with the awkward situation of a regular customer who buys two pieces of fancy jewelry every Valentine’s day. Only one is for his wife.

    I wonder, is “probably committing adultery” one of the flags in the data-miners database? Can you buy targeted marketing?

  • MarkTemporis

    And the other for his daughter? Mother? Other completely innocent reasons?

  • Mrs Grimble

    Nothing wrong with a man buying jewellery for his mother or daughter for birthdays or Christmas. But for Valentines Day? That’s a little bit ewwww,

  • Evan

    Now I’m starting to imagine a guy who buys a piece of jewelry every Valentine’s Day and saves it ten months to give to his daughter next Christmas. (Maybe there was a sale around Valentine’s Day?)

    Or, a guy whose daughter has a birthday right after Valentine’s Day… That might make an interesting story, actually, for people who like writing comic (or tragic) consequences of misinterpretations.

  • Sylvia

    This particular guy was fairly open about the fact that the second set of jewelry was for a mistress. I like your story idea, though; I might have to borrow it sometime.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Speaking of!

    I wish to God I could remember the name of this story I read in a high school anthology.

    It was fascinating. This guy, he ran a laundry. And every day or every week, this other dude would send in something by servant or courier.

    And out of little bits and pieces, this laundry man worked out who he thought the individual was who he did laundry for. He would, I remember, specially starch and clean the sleeves because he thought the person might be a student, from all the wriiting done on the sleeves. And so on, and so forth.

    And then one terrible day, he saw red on the person’s clothes! And he thought the person had died right after.

    The irony was, this elaborate picture of a student’s hectic life story was mostly wrong, because the very man who had for so many years sent his clothes to be cleaned was sitting in front of the laundry man who was telling the tale.

    And the truth was, on the day he was due to graduate (I think?) the man had spilled a deep red ink all over his clothes, and sent them to be cleaned before he moved away.

    I would love to find that story again, if only because the stories here of the inaccurate results of data mining are reminiscent of this short story. :)

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    It might not really be adultery – my aunt and her husband and her boyfriend all live in the same house (and have for twenty years or so…)

  • Lliira

    My dad bought me jewelry for Valentine’s Day when I was a little girl. It was actually both my parents, but I remember he picked something out once. (I remember that one time because it was not my taste at all.) My grandmother used to buy me jewelry all the time.

    My dad sent me chocolates for Valentine’s Day until I was in my mid-20s. I think treating Valentine’s Day as simply a day to celebrate love of all kinds is a good idea.

  • Lori

    Some of the apparent incompetence is due to the fact that when a company data mines too successfully it creeps people out and they complain. For example, I know Facebook has ticked some folks off by correctly predicting relationships and life events that people had deliberately not posted to Facebook.

    The version of the future in Minority Report included very personally targeted ads. My ex and I can’t have been the only ones who thought that was the creepiest part of the movie. (We both thought that because most of the other things in the film aren’t going to happen in our lifetime, if ever, but the ads the follow you everywhere and talk right at you and won’t shut up just might.)

  • aunursa

    I hate the fact that ads are increasingly difficult to avoid.

    Whenever I view an online video, I make it a point to mute the sound for the 15 or 30 seconds of the preliminary ad. I hate the fact that the supermarket bombards me with ads on the floor, the shopping cart, and the grocery receipt. I hate the fact that television networks interrupt every show with ads for upcoming shows that are intended to distract me from the show that I am watching. As a sports fan, I hate the fact that almost every stadium and bowl game and score and timeout and power play and halftime show has a sponsor. I hate the fact that when the new station is about to give a traffic report, it’s delayed for twenty seconds while the announcer tells me “this traffic report is sponsored by ABC Pharmacy. Don’t miss ABC’s President’s Day Sale, where our prices…” By the time he gets to tell me about the accident on I-80, I’ve already passed the exit that I have taken to avoid the mess.

    [aunursa takes deep breaths and starts to calm down]

  • Lori

    I’m don’t mind ads, in moderation. I understand that they are what pays for the things I don’t or can’t pay to see/hear. I mind a lot when the ads are intrusive. Whoever came up with the idea of having ads for other shows, most of which I do not want to see, covering the bottom of the show I do want to see needs a good smack.

  • Ross

    is ABC Family still letting Jeff Foxworthy shove a running show out of his way and then talking over it to say how cool it is that they let him interrupt other shows to pitch his own?

  • Jamoche

    There’s a gas station near me that I will not use, even if I have to push my car the half mile to the next one, because they have video ads on the pump.

  • Sylvia

    I’m with you on that.

  • The_L1985

    Pump ads are becoming a lot harder to avoid in my area. I deliberately turn and look away from the pump as soon as I begin pumping. I always fill the tank until auto shut-off kicks in anyway, and I have a fair idea without looking how much that’s going to cost.

  • Amaryllis

    I hate ads on buses and trains and subways. I hate ads on the sides of buildings (unless the ads are historic or charming and actually advertise something made inside the building. The Domino sugar sign may be tacky, but it’s ours.) I especially abominate flashing LED business signs. I hate all billboards. I hate stadiums and concert halls named after corporations. I hate TVs in doctors’ offices playing shows that are mostly ads. I mildly hate ads on public television and ads played in movie theaters, but I’m probably showing my age with that one. “It was better in my day…

    Ads belong where you’ll see them if you wish to access whatever content they’re supporting– newspapers (of fond memory– although I knew it was a sign of the end when the paper started putting ads on the FRONT PAGE), commercial TV, even websites supported by ad revenues.They shouldn’t be cluttering up and commercializing my entire landscape.

    [Amaryllis is old and grumpy.]

  • PepperjackCandy

    The thing that bugs the heck out of me? When a corporation pays money to put its name on a stadium that already exists (I’m looking at you, “US Cellular Field”).

  • Amaryllis

    Also, sponsors that go bankrupt and cease to be sponsors. I had finally taught myself to remember “PSINet Stadium” when all of a sudden it turned into “M&T Bank Stadium.” (So which is it, a bank or a stadium?)

    I couldn’t decide which name was uglier, or harder to say.

  • thatotherjean

    Which is why they rapidly became “Pissy Net Stadium,” followed by “Empty Bank Stadium.”

  • Ross

    The correct pronunciation of the former name is, of course, “Piss in it”

  • Jamoche

    Nobody in San Francisco ever used the corporate-sponsor name for Candlestick Park.

  • stardreamer42

    The company thru which we get our electric power ran a billboard ad a few years ago that simply said, “There is no [company name] Stadium. We pass the savings along to you.” VERY pointedly mocking the biggest electric company in the area, which did put their name on a stadium.

  • dpolicar

    There’s a sports arena in Boston originally known as the “Boston Garden,” subsequently renamed the “Fleet Center” when Fleet Bank bought naming rights to it (well, actually it’s more complicated than that, but never mind), then Fleet gave up naming rights.

    For a longish period, the arena sold transient naming rights — like, you could have it be the “PepperjackCandy Garden” for a week — and had a huge sign that read “Hello, my name is:” with a space for the logo of the week.

    It was pretty funny.

  • Donalbain

    Naming rights to buildings is part of the business of getting them made. Carnegie Hall isn’t so named by coincidence.

  • Timothy (TRiG)

    Well, the very first newspapers had an entire front page of ads, and nothing else. The Dublin freesheet Metro Herald often does a double cover: the outer one is one massive ad (front and back of the paper; inside and outside) and the inner one is the actual front page.

    The Galway Advertiser is the only freesheet I know which is actually a fairly good quality paper. It’s better than the freesheets in both Dublin and London.


  • Feygele Goy

    When I first moved to Saint Paul, MN, it took me over a year to realize the “Xcel Energy Center” was sponsored by Xcel Energy, and that it wasn’t a power plant or “Energy Center”.

  • guest

    Enron field

  • P J Evans

    Newspapers used to have ads on the front page all the time. What was different was NOT having them on the front page.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I hear you. What really gets up my nose is how there is such an ongoing increase in the intrusveness of advertisements into space previously generally considered ad-free.

    It’s especially bad when the government ends up succumbing to the easy lure of ad dollars to replace tax revenue, because then you get things like busses covered in giant ads.

  • JustoneK

    YES. Remember when people paid extra money to avoid ads in services like cable tv?

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I wouldn’t be surprised if half the reason the MPAA hates torrenting is because you can cut all the ads out before releasing a TV show. :P

  • JustoneK

    I thought that was overtly stated!

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    Well, the ads on buses also help keep the *fares* low – so they can actually be used by low-income people.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Assuming the transit authority gets enough revenue from it. Realistically, though, transit should get a lot more funding. :

  • FearlessSon

    Most of the time, people with some starve-the-beast agenda try to cut transit funding further, claiming that if it cannot support itself entirely with fares and advertising then it is too inefficient to exist.

    Free market for everything, yay! [/sarcasm]

  • EllieMurasaki

    They should apply that logic to oil companies.

  • FearlessSon

    Try it and watch them go all out with too-thinly justified special pleading.

  • reynard61

    I regret that I have but one “^” to give to your comment.

  • reynard61

    “I hate TVs in doctors’ offices playing shows that are mostly ads.”

    Thank your lucky stars that it’s *just* ads. A few months ago I had to visit my doctor and his TV was playing FauxNoise. When I asked if they could change the channel (I happened to be the only one in the waiting room at the time), they told me that it was from the building-wide feed and that the management had recently fixed it so that *only* FauxNoise was shown. Out came the e-reader/video-/mp3-player. Classical music beats Rethuglican agitprop any day.

  • flat

    That’s the beauty of soccer you can watch 45 minutes before they have to take a break of fiveteen minutes and after the break you have another 45 minutes to go.

  • Launcifer

    Yeah, only in the United States. We in the United Kingdom have come up with some rather cracking ways to screw up a simple half of football (yes, I’m looking at you, ITV)…

  • flat

    actually I am from the Netherlands.

  • AnonymousSam

    Reminds me of a science fiction story I read a long while back out of an anthology, a man’s slow mental breakdown from advertising being present everywhere he went, all of which designed to be impossible to avoid or ignore, extremely obtrusive, even to the point of breaking into his house and destroying his possessions to demonstrate the cleaning power of a robot…

  • RobW

    This in turn reminds me of a William Gibson novel, “Pattern Recognition” in which the main character is allergic to brand names. She actually has a physical discomfort reaction to effective branding. Good news is that she’s turned this into a lucrative consultancy: marketing firms pay her to basically walk into their conference room, glance through a portfolio of logos, and tell them how sick they make her.

  • Jamoche

    In the Lensman series, the first human Lensman meets the extremely alien Rigellians, who have the “sense of perception” instead of sight – something like a psionic version of echolocation. Rigellian cars don’t have windows, so the Rigellian driver mind-links with the Lensman to “show” him the city they’re travelling through. The Lensman asks about the blank areas he noticed – is this some taboo? No – it’s advertising, and the Rigellian is so used to it he’s filtering it automatically.

    So human and Rigellian bond over their dislike of advertising.

  • Wednesday

    Target had a similarly creepy predictive advertising campaign. They found they could predict quite successfully based on purchases whether shoppers were expecting a new baby in the household (and roughly when it was due), and sent advertisements and coupons for all baby-related products, thereby rightfully freaking out the targeted customers, and in at least one case, revealing a young woman’s pregnancy to her father from whom she’d kept it hidden. (They have since changed the advertising campaign to sending a mix of coupons and ads, only some of which are for baby products, so people don’t realize that they’re being targeted.)

    Given that people can lose their jobs or be denied health insurance because of being pregnant, not to mention the social stigmas against people who are pregnant in the “wrong” circumstances (too poor, too not-same-race-as-fetus) or who have abortions (even if it’s a wanted pregnancy that’s gone wrong), I think we need laws restricting or prohibiting the use of data mining to identify individuals who are pregnant (or members of other discriminated-against classes) in this way.

  • Ross

    Is it really better to criminalize certain kinds of information because it is “often” used to discriminate, or to criminalize the discrimination?

    It seems to me like a lot of the “We must restrict certain kinds of information from becoming public” stuff has the effect of reinforcing the idea that it’s right to discriminate people for those taboo reasons.

    One of the silver linings to the breakdown of privacy is that it is becoming increasingly impossible to discard people for their shameful secrets — barring everyone who’s known to ever smoked marijuana, had sex with a member of their own gender, or been naked in public from respectable public life only works when there are rigorous protections that ensure that most people who do those things don’t get “caught”.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Whenever I watch the Daily Show online, every commercial break has at least two Axe ads. They’re the most off-putting and misogynist ads I can recall seeing, and the ad server usually throws in another terrible dudebro-targeted product ad for good measure (Hot Pockets’ awful “so hot” commercial, the latest Michael Bay movie). I know I’m male and under 35, but you’d think that the TDS audience (being primarily progressive and 44% women) wouldn’t be such a prime demographic for them.

    I certainly wish iTunes and Spotify did a better job of mining my data. If I never see an ad for JT or Lil’ Wayne again, I’ll die a happy man. They both literally have a long list of all of the music I listen to, but you’d never know it from the page that greets me when I log into the iTunes store.

    Also, Fred, why in the world are you sticking with Comcast when you have FiOS in your area?

  • SisterCoyote

    The Daily Show ads are the worst. For a long time, they were my biggest reason to have an ad-blocker up – I try to remember to visit sites with it turned off, but too many Axe commercials just got ridiculous after a while.

  • Riastlin Lovecraft

    I just get one add, since I don’t live in the US (or at least, I think that’s the reason). “See clips of the Daily show online!”. Same add, for the Daily Show. While I’m watching the Daily show. Every 7 min or so.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Agree 100%.

  • Ross

    Streaming video ads are all fairly terrible in general, because there’s an order of magnitude fewer advertisers buying that ad time. Some web shows I follow moved to a new platform for a while, and every commercial break was the exact same McDonalds commercial played three times in a row, because that was the only ad in the bucket.

    I imagine that this will get better very abruptly at some point, because it will occur to advertisers that showing the same ad to the same person four times in an hour is a waste of their ad dollars in a context where “channel surfing” doesn’t work the same way, and they’ll make the content delivery folks implement some kind of rate limiting factor.

    ETA: As I wrote this, my mind is filled with that scene from Max Headroom where the board of directors debate a new advertising mechanism, as it prevents channel surfing (which is good, so good that each one of the yes men says it independently), while normal advertisements allow channel surfing (ditto), but the downside is that a small percentage of viewers explode when exposed to it. Which is probably okay, except that it’s the fat, sedentary viewers who explode, and those are the best kind of consumers.

  • Sylvia

    I found when I watch TDS on Hulu, it is a little better, mostly because they allow you to set advertising preferences and up- and down- vote things.

  • FearlessSon

    Plus whatever streaming service Comedy Central uses is less reliable than Hulu, and I often find myself waiting for a connection for so long I wonder if it will time out when watching from the official site.

    Sadly, Hulu does not inline the extended interview sections into full episodes like the official site does.

  • Lliira

    I have been completely unable to get Hulu to change what ads they show me. I downvote every car ad they show me, but they keep showing me car ads, almost to the exclusion of any other kind of ad.

  • reynard61

    When I watched Inuyasha: The Final Chapter on Hulu, I downvoted *EVERY* ad whether I liked the product or not so that they wouldn’t be able to get *any* idea what I like.

  • Antigone10

    Can I be the odd voice out? I understand the creep factor- hell I’ve had it myself. But I like ads that target me, as opposed to ads that are ridiculously, insultingly, not for me. Besides, I have actually had ads that were valuable and useful to me.

  • Sylvia

    I love getting targeted food coupons! I’m going to buy the bread or soymilk anyway, and I don’t have strong brand preference, so for me it is free money.

  • Ross

    Given that I am going to be inundated by ads, I do have a preference for ones that are properly targeted at me. I dislike getting piles of sales calls and junk mail, but the ones for things that are quite obviously wrong bother me more.

    Many moons ago, I took an intro-to-business class that tried to destroy my soul (this is the class where the professor started otu telling all the non-majors to drop their major and major in business instead, since any actual skill you might need you can learn from a ‘For Dummies’ book, and business is all you really need. And it’s also “All just common sense”), and they got to a bit on targeted advertising. And the professor asked a very good question with a very important and obvious answer: what is the single most important thing you have to do when making a targeted advertisement?

    The answer is so obvious that none of the business majors got it, and instead went on about making the advertisement eye-catching and thought-provoking. It fell to the lowly engineer to suggest that the most important thing was that you targeted the ad at the right people. Because I do not care how eye-catching and thought-provoking your advertisement for an (Insert large evil bank for whose telemarketing department which my college’s business department basically acted as a feeder school for, but which was later eaten by a bigger, eviler bank) Eastern West State University Alumni-themed credit card is, I’m not going to get an alumni-themed credit card for a school I didn’t go to.

    (The other thing about targeted ads is that advertisers, wanting to spend less money, not more, will prefer a smaller number of targeted ads to a larger number of untargeted ones. Well-targeted ads may be the only alternative to the oft-predicted adpocalypse where every second of every day we are constantly flooded with random advertisements.)

  • Lunch Meat

    I don’t like targeted ads for the same reason I don’t like all ads, and the same reason I don’t like telemarketers. I don’t buy things unless I was already planning to buy them. I would love it if the grocery store would give me coupons for the stuff that I’m already buying, like apples and benadryl and paper towels and flour, but then they wouldn’t make money because I’m going to buy that anyway. Instead it’s all soda and chips and “extra” stuff that I don’t want. I understand why the ads are necessary, but I still don’t like them.

  • Tofu_Killer

    Given the volume to advertising, some of the ads will always be useful to you, even without personalization. The interesting question is (if ever they get personalization working like advertisers want) if targeted advertising won’t re-enforce class barriers and actually limit your choices because you only see what advertisers deem appropriate for You.

  • stardreamer42

    I think that would depend on whether they use the data proscriptively or descriptively, to borrow terms from linguists. Will they send you ads based on your actual buying habits (descriptively), or on what People Like You are supposed to be interested in (proscriptively)?

  • Tofu_Killer

    Isn’t the advertising project a dialectic of the descriptive and proscriptive resulting in asperational purchasing?
    So the descriptive is the targeting (you fit this consumer profile) and the proscriptive is the product (he can’t be a man because he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me).
    What limits your choices in the coming ideal advertising age is that they get so good at targeting that the descriptive and proscriptive converge without you ever becoming aware. This would work like Pandora or Amazon now. Once they have your consumption profile and trim off what they think are unprofitable taste outliers, all of your recommendations converge on the same lowest common denominators and you can’t escape without rebooting your account.
    In the future, your can’t reboot without bootlegging Mr Yakamoto’s eyes.

  • Lliira

    I also vastly prefer targeted ads, so long as they’re really targeted at me. Ads for stores I already shop at? Sure, that’s fine, so long as they’re not pop-ups or animated or have sound in them. Because ads for places I do not shop at are almost always misogynistic, or trying to tell me I want to lose weight because of course all women want to lose weight, or just plain obnoxious.

    But ads for places the data mining companies think I want to shop at are never right. If I wanted to shop there, I already would, or I’d learn about it through word-of-mouth.

  • stardreamer42

    I agree that I’d rather see ads targeted to “people like me” — it’s when they get TOO personal that it gets creepy. Facebook hit that point a few months back; I’d been looking up some Georgette Heyer books on Amazon, and suddenly I was getting Facebook ads for Heyer reprints.

    This is why I will relentlessly downcheck ads that I DON’T want to see on Facebook, but refuse to tell them “what kind of ads I like”. And even so, I can’t get them to stop showing me snake-oil ads for “Miracle Weight Loss” and “Magic Wrinkle Cream”, no matter how many times I downcheck them.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I can’t say I’ve had any useful target ads, but I have benefited from one type of data mining. Twice*, I’ve received robocalls from Wegman’s (a supermarket) warning me that a product I had bought turned out to be contaminated and asking me to bring it back for a refund (and meanwhile please please please don’t eat it!) How did they know what I bought? Because I routinely use my discount card at the checkout. Data mining, loss of privacy, and helpful.

    * Since I’ve bought most of my groceries from Wegman’s for the last several years, I wouldn’t call two problems – involving the same brand of the same product – a red flag for the store. I will think several times before buying anything else from that manufacturer, though.

  • JarredH

    I ran into that a couple years ago. Apparently, they got a (potentially) bad batch of eggs and their system let them know that I had just bought a store salad that had eggs in it. So I got an automated call.

    (Sadly, I had eaten the salad the day before I go the call. Happily, I lucked out and suffered no consequences.)

  • Ursula L

    I guess this is where ethics comes in. I’m comfortable with Wegmans tracking my purchases, but I wouldn’t feel the same about Walmart. Different companies, run by different families, with different ways of doing business.

  • Ross

    If you’re going to red-flag anyone who occasionally sells food tainted with a deadly disease, you’ll rapidly run out of places to shop. I mean, what are they supposed to do, hire inspectors?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Well, as I said, I’m NOT red-flagging Wegman’s.

  • Jamoche

    Back when Facebook still knew my age, relationship (single), education level (incomplete masters), and current employment (software engineer), I would get ads aimed at women in their 40s who were re-entering the workforce and apparently somewhat desperate, because they were for nursing jobs – that’s not a level of physical or mental stress I’d want to put up with at my age unless I had no choice. Not sure I could’ve coped with it in my 20s!

    For fun, I told it I was a man instead. The ads switched to online dating services.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I always get ads for allegedly hot single 20somethings in my area. Uh-huh, sure whatever.

  • Lori

    I get those too. For reasons I don’t fully understand Yahoo (where I have a mail account) sometimes knows where I actually am, but frequently erroneously believes that I’m in Marshalltown, Iowa. That means my local ads are sometimes for northern Indiana and other times for central Iowa. In spite of the fact that the two locations are approximately 450 miles apart the ads for singles in my area have the exact same pictures. Funny that. [eyeroll]

  • Lliira

    If Facebook ran video game and book ads for me, they’d have gotten some clicks. I mentioned video games and books in my posts quite often. But Facebook apparently thinks women my age share a hivemind that consists of clothing, jewelry, marriage, weightloss, and babies, so they got no clicks ever. (Some of the jewelry looked interesting but I was too pissed off at them by then to give them a chance.)

    What surprises me is that they don’t use the most important data they have: location, location, location. They seem to try to use it in a very flaily way. I’m friends with someone in Salt Lake City, so I must want ads for local stuff in Salt Lake City and also Mormon ads. Though he’s an atheist too. Facebook is just so incompetent, and that kind of incompetence in powerful hands frightens me.

  • Tofu_Killer

    And unlike the corporations, the NSA won’t be put off from doing so by any difficulties in making such a scheme profitable.

    But they do, to some degree, need to justify the costs as an effective use of time and funds. And they are somewhat reigned in by public opinion and the law. If it’s really the end of privacy, that I doubt but I am more than ready to ask for real laws to stop the snooping.
    As for advertisers, what you frame in this post you are largely correct; the individual companies really don’t have that much information about you that they don’t collect UNLESS they also subscribe to the aggregator companies like FastData (flash of lightening and roll of ominous thunder).
    There are a couple of companies out there that roll up your personal information from all known sites and generate profiles about you, and track where you have lived, your credit histories, your legal past, purchasing activity, etc etc. These are the real danger to whatever shreds of privacy are out there. And, unlike the government, these companies are not restrained from selling all that info about you to the highest bidder.

    Like I said in the comments to the sister post about government databases, I’m disturbed, but not paranoid about this.

    Just like the government, the corporate ability to absorb information far exceeds their ability to read it meaningfully. Targeted ads are prone to the same view fatigue as all other advertising. I am not convinced that the effort is worth the expense, no matter how low the cost because people’s consumption habits are sticky, or ruled by fashion, so always ads work best when they push us deeper into the rut by making us feel better about choices we have already made. Changeable consumers that can be convinced to buy something new are already easily swayed, so why bother targeting/personalizing ads beyond a general target audience when the volume of advertising views on the internet is independent of the price (you pay a fixed price for the number of historic page hits)? The price doesn’t go up on a page that gets more hits than expected.

    Anyway, I’m probably wrong on this in the long term. But for the present, trends seem to indicate I’m right. After all, how many of us are swayed now by the current generation of targeted ads? Even more personalization isn’t going to slow us down from clicking on the little ‘x’ in the upper right corner.

  • The_L1985

    To me, the ad before a YouTube video is “look at blog comments” time. Years of tuning out parental lectures have made it so that I can tell when the ad is over without even noticing what it was for.

  • Madhabmatics

    I can’t imagine willingly reading youtube comments

  • The_L1985

    That’s why I’m reading blog comments and not YouTube comments. ;)

  • JustoneK

    there are a lot of blogs where it’s impossible to distinguish from youtube.

  • FearlessSon

    I wish that Google ads would get it through their data matrix that frequent visitors to a blog on Patheos Progressive Christian channel are probably not interested in Liberty University or anything by Newsmax.

    The other thing it shows, lots of woo about learning languages, cheating the power company, defrauding insurance, or any other “use this easy trick before They suppress it,” type stuff, strikes me as moderately insulting to my intelligence. I hate to think that there is some correlation between that people who read blogs that concern themselves with American politics and religion and the interaction between the two, and the kind of idiocy needed to fall for such dumb ads.

  • Sue White

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I am constantly seeing ads for Christian dating sites damn near everywhere I go on the web.

  • Lliira

    What bemuses me is that these ads are always and invariably for men seeking women. Or maybe they want me to turn lesbian, I dunno.

  • FearlessSon

    Statistically speaking, there tend to be more men seeking than women. Socialized causes seem probable.

  • Lliira

    Statistically speaking, there tend to be more men seeking than women.

    Not actually. Perhaps there are more men who go to for-pay dating sites. But trust me, women are seeking all the time too.

  • FearlessSon

    Sorry, I meant in those paid dating sites, not in general. I apologize if my context was too vague.

  • stardreamer42

    I think the actual correlation is between “scam ads” and “advertisers who don’t actually want to pay for targeted advertising”. Closely-targeted ads cost significantly more, but scattergun ads that show up for *everybody* are relatively cheap. At least that’s how it works on Facebook, and I’d be surprised if Google were different.

  • stardreamer42

    The other thing that happens is that Google Ads runs on keywords. Over at Making Light, it’s not at all uncommon for posts about the vast fraud that is vanity publishing* to be accompanied by… ads for vanity publishers! That’s just keyword-matching.

    * Vanity publishing is not the same thing as self-publishing. It’s quite possible to put out a decent self-published book and make some money with it. With vanity houses, the author never actually makes any money, they just keep paying and paying and paying.

  • Hexep

    Yeah, but if I just want my own manuscript to be nicely machine-bound for my own self keeping, that’s the destination, right?

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    I believe that many print-on-demand companies (including Lulu) allow you to get nicely printed/bound copies of a manuscript without making the book available for sale.

    (I learned about this because some people were looking for printed copies of a roleplaying game that was only available in PDF. The author told us he couldn’t publish it in printed form because the clip-art was restricted to electronic distribution.)

  • stardreamer42

    If you want that, going with a POD house (Lulu is one I hear recommended frequently) is the way to accomplish it. A vanity press won’t give you the option of having just one made, because they don’t make enough money on that.

  • Space Marine Becka

    I use Lulu for my paperbacks and I’d agree with that, but if you are going to sell it rather than just have a copy for yourself don’t buy any of their extra services. Source them yourself and just use Lulu for printing. (I’d advise the same with other PODs as well).

  • The_L1985

    What’s even more fun is when the Progressive Christian channel shows ads for Muslim dating sites. Or my personal favorite: a Christian Mingle ad–on a page in the Pagan channel about what to expect when attending your first Asatruar blot. I actually saved a screenshot to my computer as an example of targeted-advertising FAIL.

  • thatotherjean

    I am, I think, more amused than unnerved by the ads that appear on my computer after I have, say, visited Amazon hunting for a toaster oven or Cargurus looking for a used car in my area, both of which I did recently. I bought a toaster oven and found a used car, and was for WEEKS after assaulted by ads for other toaster ovens and used cars. Apparently whoever is doing the data mining knows what I was looking for, but can’t figure out that I found it and am no longer looking. Until they can figure that out, it looks to me like a huge waste of time, effort, and money.

  • arcseconds

    why would you not want another toaster oven?

    clearly, if one toaster oven is good, two toaster ovens must be twice as good!

  • The_L1985

    It’s even better/worse if you read a Tumblr blog called The Worst Things For Sale. Sure, you’re laughing at the bizarrely stupid things for sale on Amazon…until you realize that you have to click for the item description half the time to view on Amazon, thus giving Amazon’s data-bots the impression that you were specifically looking for, say, a book on how to “get free sex” from Thai prostitutes.

  • EllieMurasaki

    click-whore ads

    Can the misogyny, Fred. You’re better than this.

  • P J Evans

    Um, not sure that’s misogyny so much as a reasonable description. Those ads are ubiquitous, boring (generally) and ignored as much as possible, and they rarely have anything to do with the place they’re running right that second. They’re just there to collect clicks and pay the site a little money for giving them space.
    Until we have a generic term for it, or unless you can come with one…

  • JarredH

    Those ads are ubiquitous, boring (generally) and ignored as much as possible

    Is that how you’d actually describe a person (likely a woman) who does sex work? You’re engaging in the equivalent of arguing that the phrase “that’s so gay” isn’t homophobic or problematic because “I was referring to something being pathetic, not sexual orientation.” You’re still linking the two notions.

    or unless you can come with one…

    Personally, I’m highly resistant to the notion that I have to provide people with a new term in order to ask them to quit using one that’s problematic. They can come up with their own words or word-combinations to convey their ideas in a non-problematic manner.

  • Hexep

    I would love to lead a drive to use the word ‘turd’ as an all-purpose classifier for bad people and bad behavior. All throughout the lands under heaven, turds are bad things that nobody likes.

  • AnonaMiss

    I could swear I’d seen little pile-of-poop charms attributed to Japan on the internet. Something about a pun between their words for poop and good fortune.

  • Lliira

    Japan has a Thing about poop. I’d link, but I don’t want to look at it again.

    Or maybe it’s us with the Thing about poop. It’s just a natural bodily function, after all, so what’s our problem?

  • Charity Brighton

    It might be the smell. Many people in the US seem to find the smell of poop to be unpleasant.

  • Lori

    Do people in other places not find it unpleasant? Feces is, among other things, a significant source of health risk. It makes sense for people to find the smell unpleasant since that sends the “get/stay away” message while you are still far enough away for it to do you some good. Not finding the smell unpleasant would seem to be a problem.

  • Charity Brighton

    I’m not sure. I kind of thought that too but there were a couple of posts about how Japan has a thing about poop that is different from “our” thing about poop.

  • Hexep

    Lori nails it in one. Feces is natural, but so is cholera and you won’t find anyone defending that.

  • P J Evans

    No – because a sex worker is a person, not an ad. (I would expect that they’d be bored, most of the time, though.)

    A lot of the *ads* seem to me to be somewhat misogynist though.

  • Lliira

    It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen or heard “whore” as an insult, whether it’s meant that way or not. Whenever someone tries it, I get this weird moment of disorientation when I think, “wait, they’re saying that person’s making money from sex? What’s wrong with that?”

  • AnonaMiss

    This reminds me of the time during my internship where we were discussing how we’d come to be there, and I mentioned that I had gotten an invitation by “whoring myself out” at a certain conference.

    Everyone at the table started. (Everyone at the table was a fellow intern, which is why my formality filter didn’t catch it.)

    I was so used to the process of advertising oneself to potential employers – handing out resumes, exchanging social nothings with recruiters, and just generally pretending you have zero flaws even though everyone involved knows that both parties are just putting on faces – being referred to as whoring yourself out that it had been years since I had considered that literally, it means to sell yourself sexually. But apparently, they didn’t use the phrase that way in Dallas; at least, not in mixed company.

  • Carl

    One weird tip for telling if the website you’re reading is run by people who don’t care about their jobs:

    • It contains the phrase “one weird tip.”

  • Space Marine Becka

    I would prefer targetted ads for things that interest me. I would prefer my search history not follow me around showing me things I looked at and either bought or didn’t. Similar things, sure, but things I already looked at. Meh.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    Clearly the problem is not with the technology but with the uses to which it is put.I got a call from Wegman’s last month. The “bonus pack” of green peppers I had bought was suspected of Salmonella contamination. This is a way that tracking purchases is helpful.

    Like Mr. Snowdon, I too can sit at my desk and access the emails and computers of several thousand people. I know that the reason I can do this is that I have been granted high level security privileges in our network. I also know that I have no business doing this without a very good reason and that if I do, my activities will be tracked and I may have to account for them. Like the FBI personnel who accessed a file on someone to satisify personal curiousity, I could be fired. I suspect that this is the case in NSA, too. Yes, people CAN do that but without a specific reason, they shouldn’t.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Well, yeah. At various times, I’ve had high enough security privileges (because I was administering the system) to give me the keys to the kingdom. Did I snoop around? No. First, I had no business doing it, and second, I was too busy, and third, I could probably have been fired, and fourth, I had no business doing it.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    According to the NSA whistleblower, however, a few too many people have the ability to snoop who probably shouldn’t. The problem is, even if NSA policy is to fire anyone who snoops without all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, we don’t hear about it, so there’s no real proof that the authorities in charge even give a damn about the nominally restrictive procedures they’ve put in place.

  • Carstonio

    If an agency claims that it can’t stop terrorist plots without records of phone calls for people not under suspicion of crimes, it’s either lying or grossly incompetent.

  • Jon Maki

    I think a lot of it has to do with contractual requirements and/or a desire on the part of the corporation to push a particular product or service.
    That is, they may be aware that your habits don’t indicate any real likelihood of you being interested in buying something, but they really, really want you to buy it anyway, so they may attempt to try to use what they do know about you to try to influence you.
    For example, I don’t play any games on Facebook. I never have. I ignore every game-related request I get from friends. I hide the game-related stories on my newsfeed. I hide game ads.
    But Facebook, really, really wants me to play games, so they won’t stop trying to get me to do it, and they’ll try to use what they know about me to steer me in that direction. Because they know that I interact with “Friend X” a lot, they will keep pointing out that Friend X plays a certain game, or likes a certain page.
    Basically, there’s this balance between trying to sell you things you’re interested in and trying to sell you things that they’re interested in selling.
    Of course, there are also a lot of faulty assumptions that Facebook, to continue using them as the example, makes about me, like assuming that Friend X likes something means that I necessarily like something (or in terms of trying to make suggested connections, they assume that I know everyone my friends know).
    I saw a recommended post (or whatever they call it) the other day that did make me laugh. My mom “likes” AT&T. I list Heavy Metal as one of my interests.
    So this recommended post, which noted that my mom likes AT&T, was for some search service or something from AT&T that used “Heavy Metal Moms” as one of the compelling reasons for me to use it.

  • LL

    Well, where they’re hoping to make their big money is in mobile. Many more people have mobile phones than computers (worldwide and increasingly, in the US). That’s why they want to track you. So that when you drive past Starbucks or some other retail outlet, they can send you an ad (or maybe a coupon) for that retail outlet. If you’re sitting at home, the chances that you’re going to get up and get in your car and go buy something based on an ad you just saw are quite slim. But if you’re already driving somewhere, theoretically, it’s no big deal to stop at Starbucks and buy a whateverccino.

    I’m not really surprised that the phone and cable companies suck at data mining. Every time I call them for some service issue, the person on the other end of the line has to ask me for all my information, including address, city, state, etc. They send me a bill each month, they know where I live. But they still have to ask for information they already have. Giving them my name or account number isn’t enough, apparently. They’re extremely inefficient.

  • Sally

    They ask for all that information as a security measure to make sure the person calling in really is the account holder. It really is for your protection, though we all tend to get annoyed by it.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I also wish they wouldn’t run me through all that rigmarolish crap because omfg wat do they not have computers

    and like, voiceprint analysis anyone? Fraudulent call, compare recording A against recording B, if the voiceprints don’t match, boom, there’s a problem.

    And I know computers can do this shit in real time now too because you can speak your CC# into a phone if you’re too lazy to dial the digits when you want to get a charge disputed

  • Asha

    Short anecdote:

    Amazon actually helped me find good books for a paper I wrote back a few years ago. Their suggestions on what you might like actually turned out to be more useful in finding information on female medieval mystics than, say, any of the school or library search engines. Then I would find the books via interlibrary loan. So, oddly enough? Those targeted ads did me a favor.

  • rizzo

    Wait, doesn’t Google Anaylitics tailor the ads to at least the article you’re reading generally? I assume that’s one of the things it does anyhow, and that’s why I block it along with the ads.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Yep. I always set it to untrusted when I use NoScript.

  • DavidCheatham

    Some of this can be fought. I have a Kroger Plus card (I don’t live near a Kroger anymore, but I used to always shop there) in the name of Jerome K. Jerome, with a fake address. And, to further confuse the issue, I was given two keychains and one card…and they’re all in the possession of different people.

    While they might have ‘my’ (and two other people’s) data, it’s not actually linked to me. (I’ve heard some people assert they can link it to me via my debit card. Well, that might be hypothetically possible, but if they were _actually_ doing that, they wouldn’t need loyalty cards at all, would they?)

    The ‘customer loyalty’ cards are so hard to get people to use that companies do absolutely no checking to make sure the information is sane, and they give them out in person instead of mailing them to you, so you don’t actually need a real address either.

    So get them in fake names, trade them with other people, get more than one. Considering how idiotic they are at data mining with _correct_ data, they’ll have no hope at filtering out bad data.

    Incidentally, my local grocery store (with no loyalty plan at all) likes to print coupons for more expensive version of what I’m currently buying. Like if I buy 3 frozen dinners of a certain brand, they’ll print me a coupon to save $1 if I buy five. It’s weird, and somewhat stupid, as the savings are always quite low. (I think there are certain general purpose ‘manufacturer coupons’ that are in a database somewhere, which grocery stores can print on demand, but none of them are actually very good. In fact, thinking about it, I’ve been in grocery stores where those were in shelf-dispensers.)

  • Barry_D

    And the NSA doesn’t have to care that much about nasty spill-over effects, and might want them.

  • Jen K

    My mother died years ago, and my father last year.

    There are days when I wish I could tell Google/Doubleclick that they’re dead – so they’d quit showing me the “Not too late for Mother’s / Father’s Day” ads. (Yes, it IS too late to give my parents gifts. Really.)

    And given this is a matter of public record…

  • MaryKaye

    There is a step between “data” and “information.” It can be quite a difficult and expensive step to take, and often companies simply don’t.

    My mother moved out of this house in 1978. She died in 1996. In about 1998 I started getting mailings addressed to her from the National Democratic Committee, and they proved very difficult to stop–I had to write to them three times, and it made me so angry I will never contribute to them (I give money only to individual candidates). So they had lots of data–they had an old address for her, and my father says they had the new one as well–but they didn’t turn it into information even when they were prompted to do so, to their cost.

    Similarly, my home-insurance company has a bunch of data about me, and it includes my “spotless driving record” so they like to send me auto insurance ads. But they haven’t put things together to produce the information that I have neither a car nor a driver’s license and all these ads are a total waste.

  • Julie

    I thought this was a really good article on the topic. It discusses why data collection can be a bad thing whether you have something to hide or not.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’

    That reminds me of how people used to trot out all the fatuous crap about how the FBI would never ever call you a Communist or a terrorist so of course you should not have “anything to hide”. (>_<)

    Same folks as said that would be the first one to shutter their windows and lock their doors come the FBI's visit to their house.

  • Julie

    Especially since in the current case it’s impossible to know what would trigger a second look at your information.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    FYI, you don’t have to have a landline phone number to have Internet (wired or wireless). I got rid of mine years ago. It may not matter with your bundle pack, but if you’re looking to cut costs, it might be worth looking into.