Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Archive for July, 2008

Insights into major search and ad networks

I recently listened in a conference call between a stock analyst and the head of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). Mark Mahaney is Director, Internet Rsearch of Citi Investment Research in San Francisco. I’m not sure how I got on his distribution list, but he often has sound, economic insights into the major search and ad networks. He set up the call with Randall Rothenberg, the CEO & President of the IAB.

Topics included “current drivers” in online advertising; YTD advertising trends; how marketers are reacting to the current recessionary environment; and key regulatory issues, including privacy.

Some quick notes:

NUMBERS: In 2007, total U.S. interactive ad spend was $21.1 billion. In Q1 2008ad spend was $5.2 billion, up 18% over last year. But these numbers don’t include spending being done by companies doing marketing on their own sites.

AD NETWORKS: Could see growth – or not – because of the recession. The reason for growth: The networks could offer lower CPM costs.

ONLINE VIDEO: Advertising in this medium will grow. Pre-roll, transparent overlays growth are likely.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: Promotion and “infotainment” possible directions that advertisers will veer toward, instead of “traditional” online advertising.

EFFECTIVENESS: 62% of those surveyed by the IAB said there was an “insufficient ability” to measure effectiveness of their campaigns.

BEHAVIORAL TARGETING: The primary reason people love interactive media is the ability to get relative content, including relative advertising. It sits on the other end of the spectrum from spam.

PRIVACY: Rothenberg cited surveys as to why so many folks are conflicted about privacy: When asked if they’re “concerned” about cookies, 85% say they “hate” them. Then asked if they’d rather pay for services they’re currently getting for free, or have targeted advertising that will subsidize services, about the same 85% say rather have free.

https://www.citigroupgeo.com/pdf/SNA21615.pdf

How private are IP addresses? YouTube says “very,” but…

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Court Order for Viewer Data on YouTube Stirs Privacy Concerns.”

The gist of it is that Google (YouTube’s parent) has been ordered turn over log-in names and IP addresses of its YouTube subscribers. Viacom, which is pressing a copyright case against Google, is seeking the data to help prove how often its copyright-protected content helps draw users to YouTube. Which in turn helps make Google money.

Google originally resisted turning over that info, saying it would allow Viacom to “likely be able to determine the viewing and video uploading habits of YouTube’s users.” Well, no duh! But now that the ruling has come down, Google has tried another tact: It has asked Viacom for permission to obscure info that might help personally identify YouTube users.

So what information is so sensitive?

It’s the login names of YouTube users, and when that’s not available, it’s their IP addresses and “cookies” that YouTube captures from each user.

IP addresses, for those that don’t know, are numbers that are assigned to each user by an internet provider, like Comcast or a DSL company. Sometimes the IP addresses change at some interval — those are called “dynamic” — and sometimes they’re “static.” Some IPs can’t ever be linked to individual users because they’re in public places, like a library or internet cafe, while others are assigned to companies and corporations.

The judge in the case says most users don’t use their real names when creating accounts. And IP addresses can’t easily by themselves be used to identify individual users. Viacom, for its part, says it will handle the data in a “highly confidential matter.”

The big question: Can an IP address be used to tract activity on the Internet that users think is private?

My take: For the most part, no. It’s a piece of the puzzle, that along with cookies, country of origin, user-agent hash and other identifiers, helps an investigator identify an individual user. But that’s just the point — it’s a piece. When tracked — which practically all companies do with their logs — it’s a piece of our privacy that’s given up so we can have access to websites.