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Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

A Nudge Here, A Nudge There, But With Meaning..

A handful of posts caught my attention yesterday around the whole data thang…

First up, a quote on the New Aesthetic blog: “the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge”, referencing an article on Medium: Is the Internet good or bad? Yes. The quote includes mention of an Adweek article (this one? Marketers Should Take Note of When Women Feel Least Attractive; see also a response and the original press release) that “noted that women feel less attractive on Mondays, and that this might be the best time to advertise make-up to them.”

I took this as a cautionary tale about the way in which “big data” qua theoryless statistical models based on the uncontrolled, if large, samples that make up “found” datasets, to pick up on a phrase used by Tim Harford in Big data: are we making a big mistake? [h/t @schmerg et al]) can be used to malevolent affect. (Thanks to @devonwalshe for highlighting that it’s not the data we should blame (“the data itself has no agency, so a little pointless to blame … Just sensitive to tech fear. Shifts blame from people to things.”) but the motivations and actions of the people who make use of the data.)

Which is to say – there’s ethics involved. As an extreme example, consider the possible “weaponisation” of data, for example in the context of PSYOP – “psychological operations” (are they still called that?) As the New Aesthetic quote, and the full Medium article itself, explain, the way in which data models allow messages to be shaped, targeted and tailored provides companies and politicians with a form of soft power that encourage us “to click, willingly, on a choice that has been engineered for us”. (This unpicks further – not only are we modelled so that the prompts are issued to us at an opportune time, but the choices we are provided with may also have been identified algorithmically.)

So that’s one thing…

Around about the same time, I also spotted a news announcement that Dunnhumby – an early bellwether of how to make the most of #midata consumer data – has bought “advertising technology” firm Sociomantic (press release): “dunnhumby will combine its extensive insights on the shopping preferences of 400 million consumers with Sociomantic’s intelligent digital-advertising technology and real-time data from more than 700 million online consumers to dramatically improve how advertising is planned, personalized and evaluated. For the first time, marketing content can be dynamically created specifically for an individual in real-time based on their interests and shopping preferences, and delivered across online media and mobile devices.” Good, oh…

A post on the Dunnhumby blog (It’s Time to Revolutionise Digital Advertising) provides further insight about what we might expect next:

We have decided to buy the company because the combination of Sociomantic’s technological capability and dunnhumby’s insight from 430m shoppers worldwide will create a new opportunity to make the online experience a lot better, because for the first time we will be able to make online content personalised for people, based on what they actually like, want and need. It is what we have been doing with loyalty programs and personalised offers for years – done with scale and speed in the digital world.

So what will we actually do to make that online experience better for customers? First, because we know our customers, what they see will be relevant and based on who they are, what they are interested in and what they shop for. It’s the same insight that powers Clubcard vouchers in the UK which are tailored to what customers shop for both online and in-store. Second, because we understand what customers actually buy online or in-store, we can tell advertisers how advertising needs to change and how they can help customers with information they value. Of course there is a clear benefit to advertisers, because they can spend their budgets only where they are talking to the right audience in the right way with the right content at the right time, measuring what works, what doesn’t and taking out a lot of guesswork. The real benefit though must be to customers whose online experience will get richer, simpler and more enjoyable. The free internet content we enjoy today is paid for by advertising, we just want to make it advertising offers and content you will enjoy too.

This needs probing further – are Dunnhumby proposing merging data about actual shopping habits in physical and online store with user cookies so that ads can be served based on actual consumption? (See for example Centralising User Tracking on the Web. How far has this got, I wonder? Seems like it may be here on mobile devices? Google’s New ‘Advertising ID’ Is Now Live And Tracking Android Phones — This Is What It Looks Like. Here’s the Android developer docs on Advertising ID. See also GigaOm on As advertisers phase out cookies, what’s the alternative?, eg in context of “known identifiers” (like email addresses and usernames) and “stable identifiers” (persistent device or browser level identifiers).)

That’s the second thing…

For some reason, it’s all starting to make me think of supersaturated solutions

PS FWIW, the OU/BBC co-produced Bang Goes the Theory (BBC1) had a “Big Data” episode recently – depending on when you read this, you may still be able to watch it here: Bang Goes the Theory – Series 8 – Episode 3: Big Data

Written by Tony Hirst

April 4, 2014 at 11:40 am

Posted in Thinkses

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