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The Next Frontier of Consumer Exploitation By Corporations 166

Posted by timothy
from the click-here-to-continue dept.
First time accepted submitter alisonuw writes "So what if Google knows where I'm planning my next vacation and suggests hotels for me? Sure, it's creepy, but is there really any harm in companies tracking my info to target ads to me? Professor Ryan Calo (UW law) is out with a new paper that demonstrates the real harm behind these practices, making consumers vulnerable to making decisions that go against their self-interest (ie: predatory lending, price inflation, etc). The Atlantic has an article today that outlines the new research."
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The Next Frontier of Consumer Exploitation By Corporations

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  • obvious (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tom (822)

    You need a paper to demonstrate that other people making decisions for you is not necessarily in your best interest? Seriously?

    And yes, they make the decisions. You are a fool if you think that it's just suggestions. I've worked in corporate environments long enough to know that the people who "prepare" the decision are really the ones making it, because by the selection you make, the way you present the alternatives and the data you choose to use or discard, you can pretty much make sure that any of the ch

    • by icebike (68054)

      Oh come on, other people are not making decisions for you just because they show you an advertisement.

      In fact most people simply gain more resistant to advertising the more blatant it is.

      You over state your case. Yet, I wager you consider yourself more immune to advertising than the average man on the street.

      • Re:obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @06:26AM (#44592593)

        Not because of ads, but because of the choices they offer you. False dilemmas are the staple of politics today, and people are easily pushed into those false "either or" decisions. "For us or against us!" (really? I neither care 'bout you nor your terrorists, leave me alone!). "Bail banks out or the economy crumbles!" (nope, bail out the people holding saving accounts and let the bank fall flat on its face, worked well for Iceland. Remember Iceland? The country that started it all? They're through with their recession, we barely started ours).

        I'm pretty sure the average reader can come up with more examples. We are presented false choices, where one is so horrible that we grudgingly accept the not quite that horrible one as the "right" choice.

        What we fail to do is think about other options. There are usually plenty of them. But they are not as favorable for those that present us the false dilemma.

      • Re:obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Joce640k (829181) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @08:19AM (#44592863) Homepage

        Oh come on, other people are not making decisions for you just because they show you an advertisement.

        What do you think politics is?

        Politicians can use this data to make sure their public image is exactly what the public will respond to. Politicians don't need actual policies any more, just this data.

        Once they get voted in, you can bet they're making decisions for you.

      • by Tom (822)

        In fact most people simply gain more resistant to advertising the more blatant it is.

        That's not true. We all think it is, but it isn't. Marketing has gone to great lengths to feed us a bunch of lies, so we don't jeopardise the core business model.

        In-your-face advertisement works very, very well. Maybe not in the sense of promoting a product, but for establishing a brand and creating imaginary brand presence, it is fantastic.

        Oh come on, other people are not making decisions for you just because they show you an advertisement.

        Again, you would be surprised how effective advertisement is and how little it takes to swing a decision one way or the other. Sure, if you are dead-set on something els

    • And yes, they make the decisions. You are a fool if you think that it's just suggestions. I've worked in corporate environments long enough to know that the people who "prepare" the decision are really the ones making it, because by the selection you make, the way you present the alternatives and the data you choose to use or discard, you can pretty much make sure that any of the choices left is in your interest.

      We're talking about advertising here, not actual purchases. Now, I have no doubt that advertising can influence people to buy things they normally wouldn't buy, or buy Brand Y when they'd normally buy Brand X, and that the first links to come up in a Google search are the ones that most of the time ultimately lead to money changing hands--but no one is actually eliminating choices with targeted ads, for God's sake. Buyers still have the choice to find what they actually want.

    • by MickLinux (579158)

      ...And you just described our voting system.

      Oh, and if you didn't vote, you have no rightto complain. And if you _oted and your candidate one, what ar. You complaining for? It's your own fault. And if you voted

      • by MickLinux (579158)

        (...after being rudely interrupted by a cell phone burp) and if you voted and lost, you can't complain, you pays yor doller and takes yer chances.

        Point being, I refuse to achnowledge responsibility for the power of those who destroy us. I never had any say in the matter.

  • Obvious? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee (775178)

    Isn't this obvious?

    The reason companies advertise is because it influences us into giving them money (otherwise advertising wouldn't exist at all).
    By definition, products advertised are not products we would seek out ourselves (otherwise they wouldn't need to advertise).
    Targetted advertising means more succesfully influencing our decission making (otherwise it would be called "useless but more expensive advertising").

    • Re:Obvious? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @04:41AM (#44592313)

      No, your definition is bogus.

      Advertising is meant to inform you that Coke is available here. You were thirsty anyway or you wouldn't have noticed it.
      Advertising a steaming fresh sack of shit won't get you customers who were really looking for new shoes.

      • Re:Obvious? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:07AM (#44592387)

        Coke is a fresh sack of shit, it's not water, juice or milk and provides no significant benefits at a remarkable markup. The fact that this was your example is not even ironic, it's simply sad.

        • Coke is a fresh sack of shit, it's not water, juice or milk and provides no significant benefits at a remarkable markup.

          Coke is a significant jolt of caffeine and sugar. If that's what you want, buy it.

          If, on the other hand, you prefer your caffeine hot, buy coffee or tea, and sugar it to taste....

      • Re:Obvious? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:18AM (#44592721)

        No, your definition is bogus.

        No, your definition is bogus.

        Advertising (really marketing) is at least two things:

        1) To inform you of options to fill a need.
        2) To convince you that you have a need.

        (1) is useful in society, (2) is destructive to society

        The problem is that practically all marketing tends to (2) over time. For example, sexy girls in advertisements. When they are in ads for stereotypically men's products (like beer) its obvious they are of type 2, but even when they are in ads for women's products like clothing they are still manipulative because they tell women if you just had this product you would be sexy too.

        • by icebike (68054)

          #2 cannot be arbitrary designated as destructive just because you find some products advertised as being something you wouldn't seek out for yourself.

          Ignorance is equally destructive to society. Advertising campaigns can also educate.

          • > Advertising campaigns can also educate.

            Yeah? Name one.of any significance.
            Please say a pharmaceutical.

          • by thegarbz (1787294)

            Advertising campaigns can also educate.

            Can, but don't. An advert that is designed to educate is created (and paid for... remember this doesn't come free) specifically to push an agenda or a product and come across as education.

            Yes you're educating a user that pimple treatments are available, but you're also trying to get your product in their minds, and hands, and at the same time enforcing the idea that it's not okay to have pimples in the first place.
            Yes on the market there exists products to help you stop smoking, this is me educating you, by

        • There have been times that I wasn't aware of a genuine deficiency -- let alone that there was a product or service that could correct that deficiency -- until an advertisement made me aware.

          Are some advertisers slimeballs who attempt to manipulate you into falsely believing that you have a need? Sure, and consumers should be educated to develop defenses against this. That doesn't change the fact that on the other end of the integrity spectrum are advertisers who raise awareness about genuine needs.

      • Advertising is meant to make you equate cola with Coke, so that you'll spend twice as much for a coke as for a generic brand cola that tastes exactly the same. I don't have a problem with that, though -- if the consumer cares about their money they're perfectly capable to ignoring the brand advertising.
        • I'd love to find a generic brand cola that tastes exactly the same as Coke. Of all the non-Coke alternatives I've tried (including Pepsi), I've found that that they do taste of cola, but their taste is still significantly different than Coke. And even Coke tastes slightly different in different countries due to variations in the bottling process.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Most companies sell sacks of shit. Advertising is how they convince people to buy it. No-one needs a car capable of 180MPH, no-one needs a £1000 watch, no-one needs this year's fashionable clothes.

      • by fatphil (181876)
        > Advertising is meant to inform you that Coke is available here.

        That has got to be the most ludicrous thing I've ever seen positively moderated.

        So the coke advert in my sunday newspaper is to tell me there's coke available in my own flat? The coke advert at the bus stop is to tell me that there's coke available at the bus stop? The advert tells me that coke is available somewhere in the country, nothing more.

        But it gets worse:

        > You were thirsty anyway or you wouldn't have noticed it.

        How can I not not
  • Only the stupid (Score:2, Insightful)

    Seriously. Who here pays attention to the ads or does not have an ad blocker?

    I never even see ads anymore. Even the ones my ad blocker does not block.

    This only affects stupid people.

    Stupid people don't need protection.... ...wait...

    They don't need protection from the world. Stupid people need protection as in condoms so they stop breeding.

    • This only affects stupid people

      HA !

      Those who think that they are not stupid, ARE

    • Re:Only the stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @04:55AM (#44592345) Homepage

      This goes way beyond mere advertising. It also involves the price you pay and which products are available in shops near you. Restaurants may increase the price of their meals if they know you are very hungry, it's unlikely that you will leave once you have been seated. Cigaret-vendors will lower their prices if they figure out you are trying to quit.
      The old adagium "Knowledge is power" still holds.

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      There are many ad blockers.
      Which ad blocker do you use?
      And why did you choose that one?

      • Re:Only the stupid (Score:4, Informative)

        by johanw (1001493) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:52AM (#44592509)

        I use multiple: AdBlock Plus and Ghostery in my browser, a hosts file and since I'm using Peerblock anyway to block the RIAA and cronies from my torrent client I added an ads blocklist there too.

        • Re:Only the stupid (Score:4, Informative)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @10:20AM (#44593523)

          I use multiple: AdBlock Plus and Ghostery in my browser, a hosts file

          Try RequestPolicy [requestpolicy.com] it is better than a hosts file because it is on a per-website basis. You can let "slashdot.org" pull content from "fsdn.net" while blocking all other websites from pulling content from "fsdn.net"

          And it is a whitelist system rather than a black-list like the hosts file, adblock and ghostery, so nobody sneaks through just because you haven't updated it. The downside is that if those approaches are like driving an automatic transmission, using RequestPolicy is like driving a stick-shift.

    • Re:Only the stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlie@hotmail. c o m> on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:41AM (#44592481) Homepage

      They don't need protection from the world.

      It would appear that it never occurred to you that these people FAR outweigh the "smart" people and therefore it actually is in YOUR own, best interests to protect and guide them.

      • by GPS Pilot (3683)

        it actually is in YOUR own, best interests to protect and guide them.

        Should we teach them critical thinking skills and provide them with consumer education? Yes
        Should we frustrate the efforts of people who design advertising, when they are just doing their jobs by trying to improve the targeting and effectiveness of ads? No

        • by ultranova (717540)

          Should we frustrate the efforts of people who design advertising, when they are just doing their jobs by trying to improve the targeting and effectiveness of ads? No

          Yes, we should. Killing off parasites is in everyone's interest. If they can stay alive by preying on the weak today, they might evolve enough to prey on me tomorrow. And even if they don't, they still distort the marketplace so that the best product might not win, which will end up hurting me. And even if they fail at that, as long as advertis

          • by MickLinux (579158)

            Killing off parasites is in everyone's interest? Then why was mebendazole discontinued in the US, which is practically mandatory before pre-surgical steroids, and the law now prohibits individuals from importing the super-cheap, anti-cancer non-toxic dewormer from Canada or any other 1st, 2nd, or 3rd world nation?

          • So, you would take away the freedom to advertise one's products or services, on the grounds that it's a parasitic activity.

            I myself have advertised my services, when I sent résumés to prospective employers.

            Have you ever sent out a résumé? You parasite!

            • by ultranova (717540)

              So, you would take away the freedom to advertise one's products or services, on the grounds that it's a parasitic activity.

              Nobody was talking about making advertising illegal (altough constant tracking probably should fall under existing stalking laws), just about whether we should "frustrate the efforts" of the marketers. Why do you feel the need to twist the issue?

              I myself have advertised my services, when I sent résumés to prospective employers.

              Nobody was talking about that either

    • Re:Only the stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @06:39AM (#44592623)

      If the choice of stupid people wouldn't affect the choices I have, I'd agree with you.

      For reference, see politics. Or (*shudder*) TV.

    • This only affects stupid people.

      People like you are the easiest ones to sucker because you think you are immune.

      This stuff isn't just about overt and in your face advertising. It is also about product-placement, paid-for reviews on big-name websites, shill reviews on "consumer" websites and pretty much anything people with hundred million dollar marketing budgets can come up with - like this nationwide campaign [teamcoco.com]

      If you believe that you are able to withstand a hundred million dollars worth of research into how to manipulate the human psyche

    • by faedle (114018)

      I think you missed the point. This was about marketing, not advertising (advertising is just one small part of marketing).

      So you're blocking advertising, great. But what if the fact you have an adblocker installed on your machine (which is generically trivial to detect, BTW) means you automatically pay 10% more for everything? That's the world the author of the original study is warning us of. That the data collected via widespread tracking can be used to penalize one class of customers for fuck-all rea

    • by taustin (171655)

      I've never found the need for an ad blocker. I don't see them anyway, even when they flashing on the screen. They just get tuned out. I do keep the speakers turned off, though, except when I want the computer to make noise.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Serious question, how much toothpaste do you put on the brush? You'll see why I ask when you reply.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      arrogant and ignorant.
      you are truly dangerous.

  • In store tracking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by assemblerex (1275164) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @04:58AM (#44592359)
    If you have a phone, as you walk around a shopping center or store will are being tracked.

    If you linger in the baby aisle, expect to get baby ads and coupons without asking for them. You might even find out your teenage daughter is pregnant from coupons you get. [forbes.com]

    Very intrusive: Get served ads to your phone and all devices based on store browsing and the kind of stores. You have no choice to opt out.
    Medium intrusive: Get asked if you would like coupons for what they think you like. Ads on devices or apps that are ad supported are targeted.
    Low level: You get coupons on your receipt based on your walking pattern and habits. (this already happens)

    Future exploitation, the terrifying final form.
    Location based A.I. scans your physical body for any and all brand name clothing. Tied into the parking lot cameras, it logs your car and plate number. Using sets of data (The estimated outfit cost, car value, car color psychological assessment, insurance carrier) it evaluates your income bracket and psychological profile.
    A.I. scans all store records for purchases that match what you are wearing. If the purchases is detected to have not been made at the store, coupons and ads targeted at those articles are sent (You too can get Feragamo shoes here).
    Each time you stop, the time and location and nearby goods are noted. Any regular walking patterns are logged. If you walk the same pattern every time, the lcd screens change to ads targeting you along your route.
    As you approach merchandise displays, eye tracker record what items you look at and what in the adverts your eyes followed.
    As follows: 15seconds female cleavage, 5seconds product, 1second dog.

    Unregulated ,the future of consumer exploitation is terrifying.
    • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @06:41AM (#44592631)

      Given the quality of the average AI, you'll get ads for women's lingerie and directions to a nearby transvestite club, the product and a beasty porn page.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Unregulated ,the future of consumer exploitation is terrifying.

      I see several current regulatory obstacles for a would-be intrusive advertiser. For example, suppose they uncover a medical condition through such monitoring. That falls under some pretty serious regulations for how they store, use, and distribute medical data.

      Otherwise, I see diminishing returns to this sort of strategy. Ultimately, even with perfect knowledge of the shopper's state of mind and behavior, it's just a somewhat more challenging environment for potential customers. There's only so much you

      • Ok, lets just take the medical. I have psoriasis. Even scanning me would reveal as such. Does that mean I get spit out because of HIPA?
    • Question. Me and My fiance split up the shopping and only occupy half the store. We join at the check out stand. Wonder how that got tracked?
    • by taustin (171655)

      If you have a phone, as you walk around a shopping center or store will are being tracked.

      In less than 0.001% of stores, so far.

      Very intrusive: Get served ads to your phone and all devices based on store browsing and the kind of stores. You have no choice to opt out.

      I have already opted out. My phone doesn't receive ads. And if they text me, I'll make a scene in the middle of their store about how illegal unsolicited text ads are, in front of their other customers.

      Unregulated ,the future of consumer exploitation is terrifying.

      Only for the weak and the stupid, who have always been terrified of their own shadow. The obnoxiousness of some retailers is why so much business has moved online, where it's far, far easier to control how much advertising you get forced down your throat (and, in fact, it

    • Very intrusive: Get served ads to your phone and all devices based on store browsing and the kind of stores. You have no choice to opt out.

      Sure I do. If I find a store's marketing technique creepy, I am free to never enter that particular store. If enough consumers do likewise, the store will rapidly stop using that technique.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      If you have a phone, as you walk around a shopping center or store will are being tracked.

      If you linger in the baby aisle, expect to get baby ads and coupons without asking for them. You might even find out your teenage daughter is pregnant from coupons you get

      Two things.

      1) Phone systems have no way to identify you. That is key - just because they can track which aisles you walk down and pause in front of, doesn't mean you're identifiable. You're just "Person 1" to them.

      2) The baby tracking thing uses purch

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:23AM (#44592443)

    As always, responsible people should ensure they check the facts before spending money.
    I find the Internet, including Goggle quite useful for this, actually... /sarcasm
    Recently I got a much better price for renting a car via a specialist site than I could on the renter's own website, and it's often the same for hotels.
    So yes, I can believe that you may not get the best deal if, say, Hertz partners with Google to target you.
    But nobody is forcing you to click on the ad...
    Yet.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Recently I got a much better price for renting a car via a specialist site than I could on the renter's own website, and it's often the same for hotels.

      The kicker is that the specialist site keeps up to 25% of that better price.
      You can almost always call up [company] and ask them to beat the price you found on [website] and they'll do it, because they'll make more money that way.

  • Loyalty Programs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bostonidealist (2009964) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @09:29AM (#44593205) Journal
    Brick and mortar stores are legally barred from overtly providing different pricing for customers based on age or gender. They can't have a price tag on an item that reads:

    Women Over 35 - $32.99
    Women 35 And Under - $29.99
    Men 38 And Over - $28.99
    Men Under 38 - $26.99

    However, common loyalty programs at stores profile customers by age, gender, purchasing habits, and all sorts of other demographic criteria and selectively issue coupons and promotions that have the same result (e.g., a drug store might print out a coupon for a male customer for lady's perfume to incentivize a purchase before Mother's Day, but wouldn't issue such a coupon to female customer who is inherently more likely to buy the product).
  • I'd be more worried if this stuff actually worked. Take bogeyman Facebook. I've been on Facebook since 2009. I post regularly - Links, photos. I check in regularly at various locations. FB should have a wealth of information about me - Should know where I live, that I have two kids under 5, that I'm male, Gen-X on and on. Yet FB has NEVER been able to serve up an ad for ANYTHING I care about. Never. All I get is Candy Crush garbage, vocational colleges and credit cards.

    It's Saturday morning. I'm a
    • Haven't bothered with FB in a while, but they were serving me heaps of "Meet a Chinese|Thai Woman" ads,probably based on my having friends in and/or having posted photos from trips to those places. This in spite of the fact that my prefs have indicated from Day One that I was either in a relationship or engaged to be married, and I've never selected any options that would indicate I'm looking to hook up. Haven't actually logged in since I changed my status from "Relationship" to "Engaged" some months back,

  • Just wait for the Columbia House of vacations where if you don't say no to the trip of the month or year you get billed for it and it's non refundable after that.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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