The future of AT&T is an ad-tracking nightmare hellworld

There is a long and excellent profile of the new AT & T and its CEO Randall Stephenson in Fortune today, which you should read. AT & T has transformed itself into a media giant by buying Time Warner and by understanding how the company plans to use its incredible variety of content from HBO, CNN, TNT and others in combination with its huge distribution networks through mobile broadband, DirecTV and U-verse is important for anyone who cares about technology, the media or both. Seriously, go read it.

This is the part I want you to pay attention to: two quick paragraphs that describe how AT & T sees the future of advertising in those networks and media properties. It's the same plan that AT & T has presented before, but now it's more specific and that specificity makes it chilling. I have marked the terrifying part:

"Let's say that you and your neighbor are DirecTV customers and that you are watching the same program live at the same time," says Brian Lesser, who oversees the vast data processing operation that supports East. type of advertising in AT & T. "Now we can dynamically change advertising. Maybe your neighbor is in the market for a vacation, so they get a holiday ad. You are in the market of a car, you get a car advertisement. "If you're seeing it on your phone and it's not at home, we can customize it and maybe get a specific ad for a car dealer in that location."

Such guidance has caused privacy problems for Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, of course. That's why AT & T requires customers to give permission for the use of their data; like those other companies, anonymize the data and group them into audiences, for example, consumers will probably be buying a pickup truck, instead of targeting specific people. Regardless of how you see a targeted car ad, for example, AT & T can use your phone's geolocation data to see if it went to a dealer and possibly use the car manufacturer's data to see if it signed up for a test "And then he tells the automaker," Here's the ROI specific to that advertising, "says Lesser. AT & T says that marketers are paying four times the usual rate for that type of advertising.

Then, yes. This is a frightening vision of permanent vigilance.

For this to work, AT & T would have to:

  • Own the video services you are viewing so you can dynamically place targeted ads on your transmissions
  • Collect and maintain a set of data about your personal information and interests so you can determine when you should target this car ad to you
  • Know when you're seeing something so you can really target your ads
  • Track your location with your phone and combine it with ad targeting data to see if you visit a dealer after viewing the ads
  • Gather even more information about you at the dealership to determine if you did a test drive
  • Perform all this tracking and data collection repeatedly and simultaneously for each ad what do you see?
  • Add all that data in some way for sellers to show customers and justify a 4x premium on other types of advertising, including Google and Facebook ads.

If this was a story about Mark Zuckerberg and Fac eBook, this scheme would cause a cycle of outrage for a week. It's outrageous, especially when you consider that AT & T also routinely gives the customer information to the government, is under investigation for illegally selling customer location data to suspicious third parties, and is generally as protective of your data as receiving a customer's data. hotel that protects a bowl of mints.

AT & T can claim up and down that you are asked for permission to use customer information to do this, but there is simply no possible way for the average customer to have read your AT & T contract , much less be surprised that they are registering to be tracked and permanently influenced by specific means in this way. People are already convinced that Facebook is listening to them in secret through their phones; If you explicitly offered them the option of AT & T tracking everything they see and where they go, it's a safe bet they would say no.

In fact, this plan may sound very familiar to you because it is very similar to the plan the former CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong, proposed to Verizon when he combined AOL and Yahoo under the Oath brand in that operator: create an advertising network In the billions of page views of Oath properties, combine that data with data from the Verizon network and sell better targeted ads at a premium. (I also called that plan a nightmare at that time, remember).

Do you know why that never worked? Verizon executives refused to release the data on the network, citing the customer's privacy. To repeat: Verizon, who aggressively tracks customers using immovable supercookies thought that a plan like this was a step too far away.

Maybe AT & T should compete with Verizon on that front, instead of putting Iron Tronos in their cell phone stores.

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