VIENNA (Reuters) – An Austrian student group plans to go to court in a bid to make Facebook Inc, the world’s biggest social network, do more to protect the privacy of its hundreds of millions of members.
Privacy campaign group europe-v-facebook, which has been lobbying for better data protection by Facebook for over a year, said on Tuesday it planned to go to court to appeal against decisions by the data protection regulator in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters.
The move is one of a number of campaigns against the giants of the internet, which are under pressure from investors to generate more revenue from their huge user bases but which also face criticism for storing and sharing personal information.
Europe-v-facebook has won some concessions from Facebook, notably pushing it to switch off its facial recognition feature in Europe.
But the group said on Tuesday the changes did not go far enough and it was disappointed with the response of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which had carried out an audit after the campaign group filed numerous complaints.
“The Irish obviously have no great political interest in going up against these companies because they’re so dependent on the jobs they c! reate,” europe-v-facebook founder Max Schrems told Reuters.
Gary Davies, Ireland’s deputy data protection commissioner, denied Facebook’s investment in Ireland had influenced regulation of the company.
“We have handled this in a highly professional and focused way and we have brought about huge changes in the way Facebook handles personal data,” he told Reuters.
Schrems, who has filed 22 complaints with the Irish regulator, said more than 40,000 Facebook users who had requested a copy of the data Facebook was holding on them had not received anything several months after making a request.
The law student also questioned why Facebook had only switched off facial recognition for users in the European Union, even though Ireland is the headquarters for all of Facebook’s users outside the United States and Canada.
Facebook is under pressure to reverse a trend of slowing revenue growth by selling more valuable advertising, which requires better profiling of its users.
Investors are losing patience with the social network, whose shares have dropped 40 percent in value since the company’s record-breaking $104 billion initial public offering in May.
Last month, Facebook proposed to combine its user data with that of its recently acquired photo-sharing service Instagram, loosen restrictions on emails between its members and share data with other businesses and affiliates that it owns.
Facebook is also facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States, where it is charged with violating privacy rights by publicizing users’ “likes” without giving them a way to opt out.
A U.S. judge late on Monday gave his preliminary approval to a second attem! pt to se ttle the case by paying users up to $10 each out of a settlement fund of $20 million.
Ireland also hosts the European headquarters of other high-tech firms including Microsoft and Google thanks to generous tax breaks.
Europe-v-facebook said it believed its Irish lawsuit had the potential to become a test case for data protection law and had a good chance of landing up in the European Court of Justice.
Schrems said the case could cost the group around 100,000 euros ($130,000), which it hoped to raise via crowd-funding – money provided by a collection of individuals – on the Internet.
(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Mark Potter)
(This story was corrected to fix the headline, lead and the first paragraph to show that the campaign group plans to sue Irish regulator, not Facebook, in the first instance)
Copyright (2012) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions
Could we be seeing the end of routine doctor visits?
Scientific American reports that researchers are testing a new system for electronic doctor visits that could potentially eliminate the need for patients to see a doctor for routine illnesses.
Patients would simply enter their symptoms and health record into an online system, and doctors would use this information to send a diagnosis and, when necessary, a prescription.
Early reports suggest that such diagnoses were just as accurate as those given in person, although there are still some kinks that need to be ironed out:
Researchers analyzed some 5,000 doctor visits for sinus infections and 3,000 visits for urinary tract infection. Less than 10 percent of all visits were electronic. One possible e-visit drawback: doctors were more likely to prescribe antibiotics after an e-visit than a face-to-face.
But patients with an e-visit had just about the same rate of follow up as those who had an office visit. Which suggests that there was not a higher rate of misdiagnosis or treatment failure online. E-visits were also cheaper.
Detractors will note that this program only applies to relatively routine illnesses, but even so, this is nothing to sneeze at.
One of the primary goals of Obamacare was to cut down on the use of expensive emergency room visits for routine medical care, which was clogging up emergency rooms and leading to millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills. This looks like a much cheaper and simpler way to accomplish the same thing.
Naturally, we’ll need to see more studies before these programs can be rolled out on a national scale, but this looks like a good place to start toward improving the ! efficien cy of the health care system. Massive, top-down reforms like Obamacare get most of the attention, but it is smaller innovations like these will do the most to shape the healthcare of the future.
It also seems clear that letting consumers benefit from cheaper prices is a way to push the health care system as a whole toward less costly methods. E-visits for routine problems (and ultimately, perhaps, e-visits to nurses rather than to physicians) can offer better, faster, more convenient service at a lower price. Moving in directions like this is the kind of health care reform we desperately need.
Google is no stranger to the business of discounts and special offers, but it looks like it’s decided to reach outside the company to further bolster its offerings. The company confirmed today that it has acquired the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based marketing firm Incentive Targeting for an undisclosed sum. While not offering too much in the way of specifics, Google said in a statement that “we look forward to working with Incentive Targeting in our ongoing efforts to help consumers save time and money and enable retailers deliver relevant discounts to the right customers.” For its part, Incentive Targeting has said that it “set out to do for retail couponing what Google had done for online advertising: make it simple, relevant, measurable, and effective,” and to that end it has developed a variety of tools for retailers and manufacturers alike, all designed to deliver coupons and discounts in a more targeting manner. You can find the company’s full statement on its website.
Source: Incentive Targeting
Gripe and moan about it all you like, but public transport is a fundamental part of keeping any big city running—and this data visualization shows just how complex New York City’s public transit setup is.
Put together by YouTube user STLTransit, the video is a visualization of a single day’s public transit, between 4:00am and 4:00am. It’s made possible by the open source General Transit Feed Specification data from the MTA. Personally, I love the way that the routes become obvious as the city wakes up. [YouTube via Verge]
Since about September, Facebook has offered its advertisers a powerful new way to track its users as they surf the web: It’s called “phone number retargeting.” The move came after Facebook made a big effort to collect its users’ mobile phone numbers to prevent security breaches.
More recently, according to AdExchanger, Facebook has combined phone retargeting with a new “conversion pixel” — a type of tracking device, basically — within ads displayed on Facebook.
The combination of phone retargeting and conversion pixels allows advertisers to target you directly with ads and then measure exactly how you respond to them, whether by clicking, ignoring or buying something from the advertiser’s site.
Some advertisers have been doing this kind of thing on other web sites for years.
But most Facebook users don’t know it’s going on within Facebook. Instead, they believe the primary reason Facebook prompts them for a mobile phone number is to prevent account hacking, and to allow users to upload photos and make status updates from their phones.
In fact, earlier this year, Facebook began asking every user for a phone number for “security” purposes. Here’s what Facebook says about that:
But Facebook has since made those phone numbers available t! o advert isers as part of its new Custom Audience targeting product. “Audiences can be defined by either user email address, Facebook UIDs, or user phone numbers,” the product states.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you are a member of your local gym. You probably gave the gym your phone number. But then you let your membership lapse, and now the gym wants to persuade you to come back. The gym can cross-reference its list of members’ phone numbers with users’ phone numbers on Facebook, and serve an ad on the page of any user with a matching number. Suddenly, you’re seeing ads that say, “Get 10% off if you rejoin your local gym!”
If you click on that ad, a conversion pixel will enable a “cookie” to track what you do so that the gym can see how successful its campaign was.
There’s a level of privacy built in to the system: Although your phone number will be targeted by ads, the number will be “hashed,” meaning that the system disguises it by replacing it with random code, making you anonymous. So the gym might target 100 phone numbers, but it won’t know which of those specific people actually responded to the ad (until they pay for a membership online, of course). All the gym will know is that a certain number responded to the ad, and that those users must have been on the original phone list.
Facebook launched the system to make its ads more effective for advertisers. The company believes they lower cost-per-acquisition (of users) for advertisers by 40 percent.
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
There probably is no “right way” to start a company.
But, if there WAS a picture-perfect, fool-proof method, it might look like Percolate.
Percolate, a SaaS solution for marketing managers, was founded by James Gross and Noah Brier in early 2011. Today it raised a $9 million Series A round and it has more than 30 Fortune 500 companies as clients. They’re each paying Percolate about $10,000 per month.
There are a few things Gross and Brier did in their startup’s earliest days that set them up for success.
- They each worked for marketing companies before founding Percolate.
- When they had enough knowledge and industry connections, they quit.
- They bootstrapped until they proved their model.
- The used outside capital to step on the gas.
Gross was a former sales executive for Federated Media and Brier worked for a marketing agency, The Barbarian Group. While they were there, they created a lot of contacts in the marketing and advertising departments of major corporations. They were also able to see inefficiencies and demands in the industry. Later, while the two were bootstrapping Percolate, everything they absorbed at Federated Media and TBG became very valuable.
Being employed also enabled the pair to save up money and bootstrap. They funded their startup themselves for one year, during which Brier ! and Gros s worked out initial kinks.
When they finally had a working model and paying clients, they sought outside capital. They used a $1.5 million seed round to accelerate growth; they didn’t waste it stumbling around and pivoting.
Of course, a lot of successful companies have been founded other ways. Zuckerberg never had a job before founding Facebook. Ben Silbermann initially set out to be a doctor, but he ended up founding Pinterest
It’s too early to guarantee Percolate’s success. But whatever Gross and Brier have done up until now, it seems to be working.
Facebook’s larger advertisers, unsurprisingly, aren’t willing to say much — on the record, at least — about the proposed class action lawsuit which claims up to 20 percent of pay-per-click advertising on the site comes from “invalid” clicks.
Facebook says the suit is bogus, and is fighting an appeal in the case.
One key issue in the case is Facebook’s refusal to allow its clicks to be audited by a third party like the IAB, the Media Ratings Council or Ernst & Young.
Speaking privately, the company’s clients and competitors tell us they are aware that Facebook is non-transparent when it came to its advertising business.
None of them believed Facebook was acting improperly. And none sympathized with the suit. One said, “We trust Facebook and know that they are always working to refine their filters and to identify invalid clicks.”
Another added, “I don’t think they’re ripping people off.”
However, they also said that because Facebook is so big it is able to play by its own rules in a way that might not be healthy .
“They don’t let you audit,” said one client. “It’s a little bit suspect. A bit of a conflict of interest. … You have to trust Facebook’s numbers.”
Another added, “They’re not playing by the rules everyone else is playing by. It’s definitely an issue that there’s this 800 pound gorilla out there that isn’t playing by the rules.”
One major issue for advertisers is that they can only observe Facebook’s clicks independently if they send traffic off the site! to thei r own web sites. As most campaigns are designed to send traffic to the advertisers’ Facebook page, those clicks remain inside Facebook – and thus invisible to outside analytics.
“A lot of campaigns are not sending traffic off site so there’s no way to check,” one client told us.
Another said, “If we are driving users to a Facebook page — then we rely on Facebook metrics (impressions, clicks, conversions, engagement …) as the click goes directly to the Facebook page and not through a redirect AND we can’t fire pixels on Facebook pages like we can on external sites.”
Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google’s former click fraud czar who is now vp/strategy at Shape Security, told us that he knows many of the team members at Facebook who are working on click validation. “They are investing heavily in this area,” he says. A third-party audit of clicks, however is a “non-trivial” event at a company, he says. It requires time and resources, and an outside company must come in and perform experiments with the internal engineers. Nonetheless, “they need to take this very seriously,” he says.
Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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