Wowed by Microsoft’s New Patent: 3 Alarming Problems with Targeted Ads Online (a Social Media Perspective)
Semantic filtering for web search is happening. We’ve talked about it before and it’s not going away. You are what you search.
Traditional advertising is struggling to find its future. We’ve talked about it before and it’s still happening. Same as it ever was isn’t.
So, when commPRO.biz’s daily email crossed my desk this morning, I was stopped short by one particular headline: “Microsoft Files Patent to Serve Ads Based on Mood, Body Language.” Here’s the gist of the patent features:
“In an application filed in December 2010 but just made public last week, Microsoft sought to patent an advertising engine that gauges people’s emotional states based on their search queries, emails, instant messages and use of online games, as well as facial expressions, speech patterns and body movements.”
Wow. Just wow.
Seems that Microsoft wants to use its X-box Kinect system to monitor a person’s mood and serve up ads to match them. The article quotes the patent document as follows:
“Weight-loss product advertisers may not want their advertisement to appear to users that are very happy. Because, a person that is really happy is less likely to purchase a self-investment product that leverages on his or her shortcomings. But a really happy person may purchase electronic products or vacation packages. No club or party advertisers want to appear when the user is sad or crying. When the user is emotionally sad, advertisements about club parties would not be appropriate and may seem annoying or negative to the user. Online help or technical support advertisers want their advertisements to appear when the user is demonstrating a confused or frustrated emotional state.”
Did I say wow?
Here are the 3 very alarming (to me, at least) problems with this type of targeted ad online. I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet, but I’m struggling with how to do that. This is a big topic and I want to scream about it. I’ll do what I can to stay concise.
Alarming Problem #1 – Profit Motive Discourages the Free Flow of Information
Companies, generally speaking, compete with each other. They don’t have that good of a track record at sticking to the truth either. There isn’t often much sharing of objective facts that don’t include their product as “the” solution. Very few companies, to date, have truly stepped up and been cooperative with companies just like them to play in the marketplace. They either swallow up competitors via acquisition or destroy them through domination. Money, not necessarily relevance or accuracy, rules and there’s not much middle ground. It doesn’t have a kumbaya feel at all.
Ok, you can say that’s just free market business. But, if that’s so, how do people find information that is factual? If the online environment becomes a hotbed of emotionally sensitive and targeted ads driven by huge ad budgets, how is a university or science organization or pure data aggregation foundation going to compete? How will researchers even come close to being able to provide information to people with problems or issues that need information – potentially vulnerable and at-risk with compromised judgement type people – rather than a spin-zone profit grab solution? I find that very alarming.
Alarming Problem #2 – Innovation Suffers Without Unexpected Inputs
Innovation needs surprise. Creativity is stimulated by the unknown. New solutions are created by trying “something else”. Standardizing a corporate reaction to your emotions and behavior online will ultimately influence not only your buying choices, but YOU. You will be less likely to seek out new, untried, grassroots (i.e. no ad budget) alternatives. Alternatives are required for us to keep growing as individuals and as companies. Money shouldn’t be the deciding factor when it comes to learning about alternatives, especially considering the power of the crazy interwebs to give us fresh choices.
Learning comes from finding out something you didn’t know. That feels like a “DUH”, I know, but with the current trend in web filtering, the universe of information appears to be complete but you’re only actually getting a very small sliver based on your past behavior. If you’re seeking to change, only getting results based on your past doesn’t encourage that. Same as it ever was will continue and innovation will suffer because of that. I find that very alarming.
Alarming Problem #3 – Social Indoctrination Stagnates Progress
We talk a lot about culture and understanding your target audience’s assumptions and mindset here. But, here’s the thing – there’s always the dark horse, the black sheep, the quiet crazy who is coming up with the next amazing social revolution. People thought Einstein was out of his mind. Galileo was under lifetime house arrest for daring to suggest that the earth is not the center of the Universe.
Many naysayers, including big monied interests, throughout history have been dead wrong about the viability (and positive social impact) of things like widespread literacy, the airplane, the phone, the car, and the personal computer. The possibility of broad brushing and pushing nefarious/personal agendas to an unsuspecting greater social audience (and the incumbent exploitation and abuse that follows with that) is too real for my taste.
If a huge ad budget with nearly unlimited reach tied to emotions was the hammer in use at the time these social innovations came out, where would progress be? Would African Americans and women even have the civil liberties they now enjoy? Would you be reading this right now? Would the interesting new ideas coming forward in this social age even have a chance to grow? The status quo is a stubborn beast and once you have a good thing going, you want to keep it. I find the implications of all this very alarming.
Do You Think Your Ideas are Weird?
Here are some questions that come to my mind about all this – add yours below in the comments
- Do you trust the evaluation of your mental state by Big Tobacco or Big Pharma (or Big Oil, or Big Banks, or Big Government)?
- Do you want those corporate behemoths serving up “solutions” to your kids who have not yet developed the personal skills to recognize a pitch when they get one?
- Does trust become a useless commodity when so much manipulation is happening behind the scenes?
- Will “weird” ideas be squashed in the pursuit of predictable and measurable advertising performance?
- Is melancholy always depression in need of a drug to cure it, or instead the impetus for great literature that shifts the social conversation?
- Do you want big brands that have no other goal but to sell you being the ones who control the information flow?
- Do you want to use the web as a reliable library of real information rather than an ulterior-motive filled presentation of advertising shticks?
Perhaps I am being hysterical, but I think these questions need to be asked.
Are you alarmed at the state of advertising and online outreach? I’d like to hear your thoughts…
Til next time,
Vicki @Smartwoman Flaugher
[graphics by derechoaleer]