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The Easy Guide to Privacy Protection and Ad Blocking

Image from: https://www.darkcoinfoundation.org/

I have talked about Ad Blocking and the future of advertising in the past. But if you are tired of being tracked and want to stop all those crazy auto-playing video ads, pop-under ads, and just do not feel right with companies understanding what you are doing in aggregate, what can you do about it?

Here is a quick guide that will help you shield yourself on your laptop / PC.

1) Use an Ad Blocker for your Internet Browser: AdBlock Plus

2) Use a Popunder Blocker: Poper Blocker

3) Opt out of Behavior Tracking: DIGITAL ADVERTISING ALLIANCE (DAA) SELF-REGULATORY PROGRAM

4) Use Spyware safety programs: I like Spyware Blaster and Spybot and use both.

5) Use a good Antivirus: I really love Avast’s Free Antivirus and run it in Silent Gaming Mode so it never bothers me.

6) Look into your browser settings: for example, with Google Chrome, type chrome://settings/ for the browser location, click “Show advanced settings” at the bottom, and check your Privacy settings. In particular, you might want to follow all of my settings, though there has been recent news about whether the FCC will force companies to honor the “Do Not Track” setting.

Privacy

7) More Privacy Protection: use Privacy Badger from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

8) Manage your Google Settings: Go into your Dashboard and Activity Controls and go through your settings carefully to make sure you know what they do. By the way, if you click on those links and wonder how come you were logged in directly, this is not because I know your account information. It is because you are already logged into Google.

The steps above will be a great start to becoming more safe in your PC usage. An additional step you can take is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) such as Private Internet Access, which will help you from having your internet traffic being snooped on.

If you have any tips, I would love to hear them and add them to this article, so do leave a comment below!

After Millions of Dollars, Microsoft Bing is Just as Smart as…Las Vegas [When Data Fails]

At Kellogg, we learned that people in aggregate tend to be quite correct (for example, say you have a random amount of jelly beans inside a big jar. Ask people to guess the amount of beans. When you average all the guesses, it will come out quite close to the real number, even if the real number is large and random, like 1,724).

According to How Microsoft got so good at predicting who will win NFL games, Microsoft Bing is an awesome prediction guru of human intelligence, machine learning, and big data:

Bing Predicts is run by a team of about a half dozen people out of Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters. It uses machine learning and analyses big data on the web to predict the outcomes of reality TV shows, elections, sporting events, and more.

How Microsoft got so good at predicting who will win NFL games

In 2014, Bing was 67% accurate predicting NFL winners.

In all, the Bing Predicts model considers hundreds of these different signals, or data points, for each event, like an election or game, Sun said.

So far this year[2015 to game three], Bing is about 60% accurate in predicting NFL matchups.

Sounds great, right? However, my first thought was, who cares about winners? I can’t bet on winners, this is why the spread exists, to create (theoretical) 50/50 bets that bookies can make stable revenue from.

My next question is, in this awesome model built from millions of dollars in labor and computing power, are the prediction results better, hopefully at a statistically significant (p = .05) level, than information I could get free from a public resource? How little can I spend to get reasonably close results to aid in my for-profit wagering?

Let’s look at Las Vegas betting spreads.

Booking Odds

According to Inpredictable.com and its 2013 article Is the NFL Betting Market Getting More Efficient?, the answer is NO, Bing’s modeling is no better than me looking at the latest odds online.

From 1989 to 2013, Las Vegas favorites were correct 66.8% of the time. With a sample size of 15 years, and looking at the chart above, I can say that Vegas is pretty good.

1 signal – Vegas odds – versus hundreds of signals – Microsoft Bing = the same result.

Great work, Microsoft.

Predictions for the Future of Ad Blocking and Digital Advertising

Image from: http://www.dsero.com/img/home-splash-stop.pngOver the past few weeks, it feels like the marketing discussion around Ad Blocking has reached a fervor, particularly as Apple started allowing Ad Blockers on Mobile, pushing awareness of ad blocking into the mainstream. Let’s discuss the future of ad blocking and digital advertising.

Situation

Most content publishers (whether large like The Wall Street Journal or small, like this lowly website) generate revenue by showing advertisements. However:

  • People (usually) hate ads
  • Ad Blockers (AdBlock likely the most well known) have been around for the last ten years
  • Publishers are increasingly not getting paid (by showing ads) for their content, with an increase in ad blocking users of perhaps 5x over the last two years to nearly 250M today – in Europe and the US, % of users blocking ads can range from 15% to over 30%
  • Creating good content does cost significant money (try writing it!)
  • The decline of newspapers has shown that in most cases, people are unwilling to pay for content, thus subscription revenue is not a valid option for most publishers

Publisher Point of View

Publishers can claim ad blocking is similar to media piracy (music, movie downloads). I feel this argument is valid – they provide content on the implied agreement that you will accept (and click on, if appropriate) the ads they show. Using ad blocking breaks this agreement. If 30% of your readers are not viewing ads, 30% of your traffic is not (simplified argument) generating revenue.

Advertiser Point of View

Advertisers are not as affected by ad blocking, in the sense that blockers prevent ads from even being rendered, thus they are not affected when paying under CPM (cost per thousand impressions). However, I wonder what percentage of users who are blocking ads would be affected by ads if people saw them. For example, if these users are more affected by ads than non-blocking users, advertisers are missing out on a more lucrative (cost effective) source of conversion. The other effect is that CPM rates could be higher than they should be (but not CPC – cost per click) because CPMs now have to address the cost of providing content for users who use ad blocking in the CPM figure (cost of creating content for 100% of viewers charged over the 70% actually viewing without blockers). However, this should not actually be the case for ad inventory that is simply going to the highest bidder through programmatic means.

User Point of View

As you are reading this, imagine, would you look at ads if you didn’t need to? I would guess not. Regardless of medium, if you can get something for “free” (consume content without ads, not pay directly for content) easily, you will – when piracy was easier than dealing with DRM content, piracy ruled. Perhaps threat of lawsuit affected some, but overall, ease of piracy forced content creators to deliver better products, value-added services, and more reasonable pricing that rendered piracy less damaging. You can see this evolution in Spotify (subscription / in-app ad music buffet) for music, Hulu (similar to Spotify) and Netflix for movies & tv content.

Despite news like IAB Starts Publicity and Engineering Battle Against Ad Blocking, most people do not (and will never) care about ethical concerns. Organizations like the IAB may threaten to sue ad blocking software companies, but it is easy to see this will be a wasteful, and ultimately losing (see battles against torrenting) long term battle. The individual user will always do what is best for himself, which in this case is a faster, smoother internet experience with ad blockers. Just as with piracy, no matter the number of lawsuits or technology battles, ad blocking itself will always be easily available.

Many consumers “don’t make the connection between turning on an ad blocker and cutting off someone’s livelihood,” said Scott Cunningham, SVP at the IAB and general manager of the IAB Tech Lab, which announced a series of initiatives around the ad-blocking issue. (from: Ad Blocking – Unlike Fraud – Comes At The User’s Behest | AdExchanger)

The Individual vs the Faceless Entity (Big Corporate)

I have used ad blocking for extended periods of time over the last decade. Through my work in marketing and advertising, however, I forced myself to turn blocking off at times to make sure I understood the changes in advertising and the ways advertisers are trying to gain attention. While there are sites that do effective advertising, how many times have you been interrupted in similar ways to the following?

  • Watch a 2 minute video, forced to watch a 15 second ad. If given the option, you press skip as soon as you can.
  • Click a link, greeted with an ad right away.
  • Go to a website, and audio starts playing somewhere. You spend several seconds looking for it and turning it off. Particularly annoying at night or in an environment in which the sound is disruptive to others.
  • New browser windows and popups appear randomly
  • Looking for a download link, you see banners trying to trick you that the download is through the banner instead

Often, the content payoff is not worth battling through the ad, and even if you do look at the ad, are you really in the positive mindset to evaluate the ad properly? I think more often than not, I am more likely to attach my negative mood to the ad at a subconscious level. These ads may thus harm both the advertiser and the publisher beyond just the user bouncing away from the content entirely, as I often do.

When it is a case of choosing the individual versus the big “evil” corporation, the individual always knows who to choose. Herself.

Evolution of Ad Blocking: Throwback to Traditional Media

I believe that while publishers may fill up headlines with complaints today, they will eventually realize and act on addressing users’ root needs for ad blocking.

Let’s look at advertising in traditional media as references. In these, advertising is often done naturally, at a pace that does not interrupt your natural media consumption experience. For example, in television, advertisements are inserted in break periods, and as you watch, you build a general feeling of when it is commercial time. Writers write for advertisement breaks, making sure the pacing doesn’t jar you, that scenes naturally lead to and out of breaks. Product placements (i.e. character drinks Sprite) are done naturally. In magazines, ads are shown in the natural manner that you read the publication. As you turn pages to read articles, you sometimes see an ad, which you can then turn over after glancing at it. In newspapers, sections with ads tend to be inserted in a way in which your eyes are not bouncing back and forth between content and ad, fighting to keep focus.

Imagine however, you are reading a magazine, and an ad pops out at you, as in a pop-up book. Or on TV, mid-joke, there is a 15 second interruption with an ad.

My natural response would be, this is ridiculous! I would likely stop watching or switch to content that does not disrupt me. This is often how I see my experience with internet advertising.

Expect Digital Marketing and Content Revenue Models to Evolve (Predictions)

  1. Ad blocking will continue to rise in the short term. This will create revenue issues for many publishers, but this will also force publishers, as music and video companies did, to adapt their models.
  2. Companies will adjust (as they always have, just as in this example: Google says it won’t make advertisers pay unless ads are 100% viewable). In an evolutionary sense, if a world with ad blocking is not sustainable for publishers, this is the next step. If users refuse to look at ads, publishers will look at new revenue models. Or even return to old ones, like subscription.
  3. Smaller, individual sites will be unable to command subscription fees, or enough in donations. These sites will either die, or aggregators will appear providing subscription revenue for a network of sites. Does this sound familiar? It’s what cable providers do. We all pay a package fee, even if we use 10% of the channels offered. This fees is then disbursed across all partners which in aggregate is enough to fund content creators. Would you pay $20 a month for unlimited reading (to most sites)? I think that future is coming. This is no different from what you see with Netflix and Spotify. Wait a minute, couldn’t Facebook do this with Instant Articles, its product to help publishers deliver articles quickly while controlling the ad experience? Isn’t Apple doing something similar with News and Apple Music? Why, yes.
  4. Facebook, Google and other Internet media giants will lead the way in acceptable internet advertising standards. Some ad blockers will agree to allow these non-disruptive ads in, others won’t. Depending on the level of adoption, this will make subscription / ad revenue dependent services tilt accordingly.
  5. Advertisers will Demand Quality Impressions from Publishers (see below for more on this)

What do Good Ads Look Like?

I believe that ads do serve a need. They provide information for things that you may not be aware of, advertising is the origin of push discovery. If we remember traditional media, ads reached a happy balance for the user. When they begin to push too far (ridiculously obvious product placement), users push back, and the balance must be restored. This is what we see in internet advertising today when users install ad blocking.

I believe a large problem is the focus on pure CPM, the number of impressions, rather than the quality of that impression – are you giving a user enough time to focus on your ad without delivering in a way that is obnoxious? Think back to TV and magazines, in which I would argue, yes. The medium (magazine page, TV screen) switches completely over to the ad. In internet media, however, oftentimes, if I can just show some kind of banner on my site, and it’s then rendered somewhere on a person’s screen, I can say mission accomplished to the advertiser. From the advertiser side, I understand why this may not be so effective for my company.

Let’s look at an example below from IGN (screenshot from Sept. 30, 2015)

IGN Ad Takeover Example2

The “Wildstar” banner above is a normal banner. As you scroll down, it disappears. From my experience, you are probably scrolling down right away. If you put the ad in front of me, making me get through it, as discussed before, I will fight through it or leave. Thus, I can claim this as an impression for my CPM count, but I bet the advertiser is not too happy with its quality.

Let’s take another look at IGN below:

IGN Ad Takeover Example

This is actually the full screen of IGN, with a “takeover” seen on the sides from Wildstar. Basically, a takeover means the advertiser takes the background of the site. As the user scrolls, the ad continues. It’s not obnoxious and has a chance to stay with the user, when he has time to process it. Perhaps he will never click on it or read it carefully, but that brand has a chance to sink in, as it might on TV or print. It doesn’t interrupt your experience but can still seep in.

It’s much more natural, and assuming the takeover doesn’t change when the user changes pages within IGN, pretty good. This an experience publishers should be providing, at higher cost, for clear resonance. Yes, there are lower quantities available, but the quality is higher, and publishers can and should charge accordingly for it to make up the difference. Programmatic ads should still be possible as standards are created on how to create takeovers.

There are other examples in online media today that I love. I experienced one on a long form article on The Verge. As you scrolled down, an ad would slowly appear in-between sections of content. You saw it coming, and you could keep scrolling to get past it. However, the size of the ad was essentially full screen, thus through the process of scrolling, you would experience it for a few seconds. Because the process was seamless and natural, as in magazine reading, you didn’t have to play whack-an-ad to close it. You experienced the ad at your own pace, the feeling was great. I saw this same form of ad on mobile through Bleacher Report’s app recently as well.

Those seconds of full screen bliss are an advertiser’s dream and I think they are directly comparable in attention to traditional media ads. Those small 200 x 200 banners that are hiding in some corner in-between content – don’t we all simply learn to ignore them completely?

Good ads have to parallel what we experience on traditional media (in terms of the mental process and stress level) – you can see them coming, you are not shocked into them, you take a natural action (like scrolling down).

Evolve or Die

Despite all the hoopla and concern over ad blocking, this is simply an evolutionary phase. Companies and users will adjust until there is a balance that creates a sustainable model for content. Publishers are right in that users don’t realize that they have to pay for content one way or another, but publishers shouldn’t fight momentum, trying to hold on to their idea of how that money should be generated.

I would love to hear what you think about the future of internet advertising! Feel free to comment below.

For more information see:

Ad Blocking – Unlike Fraud – Comes At The User’s Behest | AdExchanger,

Ad Blocking Is a Hot Topic for Marketing, Media Executives – WSJ,

Ad Blocker – UntangleWiki, Study of Ad-Blocking Software Suggests Wide Use – The New York Times,

Widely Cited Ad Blocking Study Finding $21.8 Billion Loss Is Incorrect,

The ethics of modern web ad-blocking – Marco.org,

Apple’s Ad-Blocking Is Potential Nightmare for Publishers – CMO Today – WSJ,

Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web – The New York Times,

Adblock Plus Changes ‘Acceptable’ Ads Program)

A Kellogg MBA Perspective on What Happened with Google Glass and What Should Be Next

Over the Winter Quarter, our Technology and Innovation Strategy class at Kellogg culminated in a final research paper. The paper looked at the shuttering of Google Glass and what Google’s next steps should be. As part of this, I got to look deeply into the current state of Virtual Reality, which I have been following and waiting for (hello Oculus!) since I was a child, and Augmented Reality. I will be posting portions of the paper (it’s quite long) in digestible chunks here over the next week. Our team was comprised of Melissa Caldwell, Raghu Chirravuri, Olga Gordon, Jeff Hoffman, and me, Michael Nguyen. 

To see all of the sections, see my tag virtual reality.

Google Glass: A Brief History

Google Glass photo.JPG

The idea of Google Glass was born out of a brainstorming session about the future of computing by Google’s founders and several key executives in 2009. Google decided to pursue a portable computing technology that could be attached to the body or worn on glasses. A team of developers, scientists and researchers was recruited and the project was placed inside its own experimental lab called Google X. By 2011, there were conflicts within Google X over issues such as privacy and appropriate public use cases. Sergey Brin argued for the release of the Glass prototype despite agreement among the project engineers that the design was not ready. Brin argued that the uses and societal issues caused by the introduction of Glass should be discussed transparently in a public forum with the users and pushed for the immediate release of the prototype.[1]

Glass was publically announced in April 2012. An estimated 2,000 units were pre-ordered.[2] In the spring of 2013, Glass was launched exclusively at “Basecamp” stores located in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London at a $1,500 introductory price point. Although there was significant interest and hype surrounding the product release, Glass was introduced with bugs and suffered poor reviews stemming from short battery life and poor screen and camera quality. At first, sales were by invitation only and mostly extended to journalists, developers, and tech media.

Google did not accurately predict the societal backlash against Glass, including privacy concerns. Months before Glass was released, states started passing laws to prohibit use of wearables while driving. People began to associate the device with invasion of privacy. Google responded to concerns by releasing an etiquette guide in February 2014, approximately a year after Glass was released.[3]

Many developers abandoned their Glass projects citing lack of consumer demand and support from Google as the main reasons for halting their operations. The developers who continued to create products for Glass have pivoted their strategies for enterprise application rather than consumer use.[4] In January 2015, Glass stores were shuttered and the project’s key employees were reassigned to different areas of Google. Google’s release of Glass mirrored their software releases in that they provided access to the device and garnered feedback from users. However, this strategy backfired as the device was a very expensive prototype, prompting many early adopters to publish negative reviews publicly.

Aside from the failed marketing launch, Google did not address all of the impediments required to adopt this new technology on a large scale. The team never found a “killer” mass-market app or use case that would encourage mass penetration, leading to consumer and developer confusion over how to actually use this new technology. Although Google has announced that Glass is dead, there appear to be signs that Glass is being repurposed for enterprise uses or concept redesign as the project has been moved to the leadership of Tony Fadell and the Nest team, known for its Internet-of-Things connected home devices such as smart thermostats.[5]

Glass for Med

We recommend re-launching Glass with a medical focus in order to establish a foothold where it can gain new users, learn about how consumers will use its devices, and the ways to work with developers to improve device functionality. This strategy coincides well with Google’s focus on using technology to improve quality of life for people and can help lean away from the negative connotations of Glass, rebranding it as a product that enables the good in society, working with doctors to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Before its shift in focus, Google Glass was in the early stages of the adoption curve with hospitals and doctors – the most tech savvy among them were using the technology. There are a myriad of applications for medical professionals; examples include helping guide surgeries, documenting and transmitting audio and video of procedures, and allowing increased access to patient information. Many hospitals have been willing to adopt iPads to replace clipboards and folders and we see Glass adoption as an extension of this technological shift. Glass will prove superior to the iPad as it is more sanitary and can be operated hands-free. Some hospitals like Massachusetts General and Beth Israel Deaconess[1] have already shown interest in figuring out the best ways to use the technology.

We propose Google partner with beacon hospitals to roll out the Glass program hospital-wide and connect doctors with application developers to help design more ways to use the technology. Google can act as a facilitator between the developers and doctors to tailor apps specifically for Glass. By focusing on a few hospitals, Google will be able to work very closely with the doctors and developers, creating a feedback loop to help Google have a firm understanding of how exactly people use the technology in a wide variety of use cases and what could be applied beyond medicine. This will also give more people exposure to Glass, where they can directly benefit from use of it, through faster doctors appointments.

Success will be measured primarily in the information that Google is able to collect from the hospitals, doctors, patients, and developers. Feedback from each of these parties will be integral in understanding how Glass can be used more widely, specifically what type of experiences can best leverage the platform as well as ways to train people on the best ways to use Glass. Utilizing the hospital pilots to increment the product as well as seed a network of evangelists more effectively than the Explorers program will allow Google to continue to perform R&D on this AR technology in an outward facing manner while creating new PR and marketing opportunities, helping to repair Glass’s tarnished brand. Over time, Google will be able to gauge the external market for Glass and enter when it feels like both the product and consumers are ready.

3D Content Hub

In parallel with developing niche applications for Google Glass, we believe Google should leverage AR/VR technologies to create a 3D content platform similar to YouTube. Leveraging Google’s strengths in advertising, experience in platform building and their portfolio of assets like search and Android, we see a 3D content platform as the next paradigm in online content. It will be aimed at both businesses and consumers, allowing both parties to create and view 3D content. With content categories like product demos, training videos, and entertainment, this new platform will grow traffic to Google, increase advertising revenues, and attract users to Google’s other products like Android, shopping, and search.

To successfully build and scale such a 3D platform, Google will first need to identify a VR/AR technology that can be used to record and display AR/VR content. This technology could be based off Magic Leap or some other technology currently in development. The next phase will be to build a YouTube-like content platform that enables upload, search and discovery of AR/VR content. Google could use Search, android and Youtube to drive traffic to this new platform and get users engaged. We believe that it is also important to train customers (both business partners and end consumers) on the new technology to make it easy to record and view content on the platform. In addition, Google could seed the platform with content by hiring or partnering with content developers. Incentivizing content creation will produce high quality content and attract viewers to the platform, who will in turn create and share content. Google has done this successfully in the past with YouTube and we believe that they can achieve similar success with this new content platform.

Success in building this new platform can be measured by comparing the size of the captured AR/VR content market. Another indicator of strong growth is the number of content creators and subscribers. As the platform grows and advertising is incorporated into it, advertising revenues could be a measure of commercial success. Lastly, synergies between this new platform and Google’s existing products could be measured by incremental growth in Android, shopping, and search.

Conclusion

The reason that creating footholds in the Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality spaces is important is in how the battle for these technologies mirror the web browser, smartphone, and tablet wars. In the recent technological age, networks effects are key to success, making it imperative to be an early mover to create a seamless and usable experience for users trying out new technologies. This is why each of these competing firms are focused on capitalizing on the next consumer leap in technology usage: they want to set the standard for consumers. These firms moving quickly in the AR and VR ecosystems, as it is clear this is where consumer and commercial technology is going.

We believe that it is crucial for Google to aggressively pursue both VR and AR solutions to be the platform of the future. By utilizing the foundation that Glass built and expanding use within hospitals, we can better understand usability issues and build solutions specific to doctors, but apply learnings more broadly. Additionally, with our capabilities in building developer platforms, we should continue to pursue our content hub as a place where developers can develop content to be consumed by masses. A combination of these moves will allow Google to continue to be the industry leader in the future, a position that will afford us new ways to capitalize on advertising and build a more complete picture of consumers than our competitors.


[1] http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/12/forceps-scapel-google-glass/

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/style/why-google-glass-broke.html

[2] http://glassalmanac.com/history-google-glass/

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/14/us-google-glass-insight-idUSKCN0IY18E20141114

[5]An insider’s look at the tumultuous launch of Google Glass http://www.businessinsider.com/google-glass-launch-2015-2 Published Feb 28, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2015.