Men More Reckless with Personal Information Online

February 22, 2012

There is still widespread naiveté about the value of personal information and the way data is aggregated according to a new survey by Usamp.

Men and women are quite willing to share personal information about relationships, education, employment, brand preferences and political and religious affiliations.

But when it comes to information like email or physical address, phone numbers, or their location, women put a higher premium on physical safety and are markedly more guarded than their male counterparts.

What users have to gain a better understanding of is the very clear risks all of this information sharing represents, and how, with the information women were willing to share, the rest of their information is fairly easily exposed.

Why all that information matters

When looking at the types of information both men and women were fairly willing to share, it is the unintended use of that information that place you at risk.

For example, it was through hard fought battles in the 20th century that we gained a number of civil rights designed to protect every citizen from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, color, national origin, age, marital or family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, financial status, and more.

These prejudices remain, and by sharing this information freely online users enable the very types of discrimination that civil rights were established to prohibit. And users do it in a way that never places an employer or company at legal risk. A candidate will never know why they weren’t considered, they won’t even make it to the interview.

To understand how this works, Microsoft conducted research in January 2010, to expand the understanding around role of online information and reputation.

One aspect of the research looked specifically at how recruiters and HR professionals use online information in their candidate screening process.

As you can see in this table, would-be employers can now make decisions based on a number of factors long before ever inviting a candidate in for an interview process where some system of oversight could possibly identify discriminatory practices against selected candidates.

With this type of undetectable prescreening, employers can make decisions based on how people look in their photos – weight, age, skin color, health, prettiness factor, style, tattoos, and economic indicators. They can look at comments made by the candidate, friends or family members that they would never have had the right to access pre-internet. They can look at groups and organizations a person is associated with – and potentially make decisions based on political affiliations, faith, sexual preferences, even medical factors – if this information is indicated through the groups and organizations to which the candidate belongs.

Learn more about the erosion of civil rights in my blog Civil Rights Get Trampled in Internet Background Checks.

The damage doesn’t end there

It is not just would be employers or college application review boards who can and do use this information.  If 5 years ago someone posted a photo of you on a drinking binge, will it impact whether an auto insurance company accepts you, or quotes you a higher rate?  Will it impact your medical insurance rate? How about your ability to get a car, school, or home loan? The answer is likely to be YES.

A reluctance to share address, email, phone numbers and other ‘locatable’ information doesn’t matter if you’re willing to share your name, employer etc.

The study found that among the types of personal information shared, men and women are most likely to be happy to share their names (86% and 88%, respectively) and email addresses (55.2% and 42.4%, respectively). Yet unless you live off the grid, your name alone is probably enough to get your address and phone number – and sometimes your email address. It’s enough to discover if you own or rent, if you vote, have a criminal record, etc. Compounding your risks, the facial recognition tools now in Facebook and Google+, mean that even your face in a photo may be enough to collect all this information.

Does it mean you hop off the internet and hide? No. But it does mean that before sharing any information you should ask yourself who could see it? What could they do with it? Will it damage you, your child, or someone else in the future? If your information is already out there, you may want to work with websites to have any sensitive information removed.



Social Networks Ad Revenues up to $4 Per User – Kids Need to be Ad-Literate

February 26, 2011

We need internet companies to be successful and make money, so the news that Deloitte believes the average revenue per user (ARPU) of social networks will reach $4i this year is great news – if users are ready for the responsibility.

Deloitte’s findings also estimate social network membership will reach about 1 billion users worldwide this year, meaning total social network ARPU should equal around $4 billion.

Applying this projection to Facebook would mean that with their base of 500m active usersii , the company should be seeing $2 billion in ad and other revenues this year.  Internet companies also generate revenues through selling virtual goods, and some types of user information, and so on, but the vast revenue comes from selling advertisers access to consumers using the company’s sites, and nowhere is this truer than on social networking sites.

Social networking publishers were responsible for 34% of online display ads viewed in the US during December 2010, according to a new white paper from comScore.

ComScore’s data also shows that in 2010, US internet users received a total of 4.9 trillion display ads- up 23% from 2009.

Given their market share, it isn’t surprising that delivered the highest volume of display ads with more than 1 trillion ads in 2010, setting an all-time record for ads delivered.  (To put this in perspective, if there are half a billion active Facebook users, and ads were distributed equally, then each user would have been served 2,000 ads over the course of the year, or roughly 5 ½ ads per day.

Compare that to Yahoo Sites, which ranked second with 529.4 billion ads, followed by Microsoft Sites with 243.9 billion ads, Fox Interactive Media with200 billion ads, and AOL, Inc. rounding out the top 5 with 130 billion ads.

Given the sharp rise in advertising, are our kids prepared?

It’s no secret we’re surrounded by advertising on TV, radio and the internet, busses, playgrounds, buildings, clothing, and – if some legislators get their way – ads will even begin appearing on government buildings and online sites.

Unfortunately, we aren’t doing a great job of teaching our kids to be savvy enough to distinguish hype from truth, emotional marketing vs. product marketing, or a scam vs. a legitimate offer. Few youth are able to consistently answer the three basic questions of: Who’s behind the ad? What are the actual claims of the ad? And what is the ad asking of me?

Kids aren’t prepared to match wits with the battalion of psychologist being deployed, not to sell the product, but to build an emotional connection with the target audience.  In an age of constant connectivity and increasingly sophisticated means of advertising, the old concerns over subliminal ads where images of popcorn were hidden in movies have become downright quaint.

Several years ago, a PBS “Frontline” show called “The Persuaders,” examined how advertising significantly shifted approach in the lead up to the new millennium going from “what the product does and why this product is better” to “emotional branding” I need this product as part of my life/lifestyle.  Though it aired first in 2004, it remains shockingly relevant and is a great show to watch with your kids to start a discussion about how to evaluate the advertising messages you receive.

Last year, to address some of the issues around advertising, the Federal Trade Commission created an online interactive educational game called Admongo to teach kids critical thinking skills. In the game, kids gain points for identifying ads and understanding the motivation behind them. It’s a game that’s good to play together with your kids as I think parents will struggle to navigate the game, so kids can navigate and parents can talk about the concepts as the game progresses.

Keep the conversation going. Consider using everyday ads you come across as conversation launchers with your kids, the more you give them practice with a variety of ads – commercial, political, cause driven, and so on, the better skilled and savvier they’ll become.


i “Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2011″

Broadband Adoption Jumps to 75 Percent of US Consumers

January 18, 2011

A bright spot in internet news, the Nielsen Company’s new “State of the Media 2010″ report indicates a 10% jump in high speed internet adoption among consumers in 2010, up from 65% reported in an FCC study in 2009 (Learn more in my blog Stats on Broadband Adoption and Use in America from March 2010).

Nielsen’s research also indicates another 5% of consumers anticipate purchasing high speed internet access in the near future, which would bring the total percentage of US consumers using high speed access to 80%.

As a nation, the broad adoption of high speed internet is critical to our competitive standing in global competition.  As individuals, high speed access is critical to participation in our world.

There are still 25% (Hopefully soon to be 20%) of Consumers without high speed access

With 1-in-4 consumers still without high speed access – whether by choice or due to lack of access – we have a long way to go bridge the digital divide.  This requires us to continue to address affordability issues, provide community access points through libraries, schools, and other resources, help show the value of high speed access, and address the clear safety and values concerns among the non-adopters. The FCC’s study found that nearly half of Americans who remain offline do so in part because they fear “all the bad things that can happen on the Internet”.

These concerns are not solely the domain of non-adopters. Among those who are already online, the survey found that 65% strongly agree there is too much pornography and offensive material on the Internet. And 57% strongly agree that it is too easy for their personal information to be stolen online, while 46% strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children.

To drive adoption, focus must be placed on three additional fronts: education, infrastructure and enforcement.

Education: Service providers should be encouraged to provide site specific, easily discoverable about the benefits of internet access and clear safety information. This information should be provided in Spanish as well as English on the ISP’s websites, with material targeted to specific demographic groups – not just kids and parents, but seniors, adults, and those with unique opportunities or risks.

Public service announcements and public awareness campaigns focus on two areas: informing consumers about the tremendous benefits of online access, as well as teaching core self-protective measures such as recognizing a phishing scam or teaching consumers to identify how information leaks, and avoid posting personal information in public access websites.

Infrastructure: Service providers should be motivated to enhance their services’ infrastructure to include robust security and safety functionality – such as built-in antivirus software and personal/family safety settings – for all accounts. Companies should be encouraged to innovate and seek competitive advantage on the safety front — and emphasize that innovation in their marketing.

Enforcement: The FCC needs to coordinate with the appropriate agencies to ensure that law enforcement at the local, state and national levels are provided the manpower, training, and resources needed to adequately respond to online crimes. Consumers need to feel assured that crimes committed against them online will not go unpunished.

Service providers should be encouraged to enforce their terms of service policies – today most sites have lofty terms, but fail to adequately enforce these – and an unenforced policy is worse than no policy at all as it creates a false sense of safety.

Service providers should also be encouraged to improve their site moderation and develop technologies to identify and respond to abuses as they occur, as well as providing parents with filtering tools and providing information enabling them to monitor and set clear rules for children’s use.

Until consumers are convinced of the relevance of broadband access in their lives, and are convinced that they can go online safely we will continue to see too large a gap between the government’s access goals and consumer’s adoption rates.