eHarmony's creepy attack ad

I saw an ad today for eHarmony.com, featuring a little girl whose teacher met someone online.  She runs into her grandfather's office (the grandfather played by  eHarmony founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren) and alerts him that he met someone on "one of those other sites, not eHarmony.com."  She goes on, "I told him it would never last. ... eHarmony.com has made way more marriages than anyone else, and eHarmony.com has all the hot babes."

This ad creeps me out for a few reasons -- top of the list being that eHarmony has a history of discriminating against non-white, non-conservative, non-heterosexual, and non-Christian people.  (Individually, not just people who check all four boxes.)  But also because it's essentially an attack ad against other dating sites, pushing to de-legitimize online dating as a general category in order to puff up its own status as the exception to the rule.

Also, I dislike ads that use children as props to represent purity of thought and simple truth.  See, for example, this series of AT&T commercials:

Ads by awful people ruining the world

I've started a new Tumblr, because I have trouble weighing the investment of time against the quality of the idea.  It's a catalogue of the kinds of ads that make me feel a little bit of a worse person, just for having read them.  It's called "They Don't Want You To Know."

Youtube, ads, and national inventor's day

I didn't know there was a national Inventor's Day.  It turns out it was a couple days ago, February 11. I found out about this because I just watched a two-and-a-half minute ad before a video on YouTube.  The reason I watched it was because I was incredibly surprised to hear Ze Frank's voice on the ad, and I figured whatever Ze Frank is going to advertise for has to be at least worth listening through.

The ad was about inventors.  It's called Why Inventors Are Awesome.  It was for national Inventor's Day.  It was sponsored by GE.  I'm not sure it's changed my opinion about GE (they make a lot of stuff that I really like existing, but they're a very big company and that gives me an uncomfortable sense of 'what am I not hearing'...)

I just wanted to take this moment to talk about the fact that there are, it seems rarely but actually pretty often, occasions when ads benefit everyone involved.  This video, Life by the Numbers, and YouTube, both got money for serving that ad to me.  GE got my eyeballs for a little bit, and made me think about looking into them with a charitable attitude.  And I got a two and a half minute video that made me feel good about the world, about humans, and about the past and the future.

Youtube paid channels might be a thing I guess

There's a website called AdAge.com.  I didn't know that. SourceFed's latest video, YouTube To Unveil Paid Subscriptions?!, is about the rumor that YouTube may, soon, be offering paid subscriptions.  Link to the video. Embedded below.

This sounds like an awesome step up past the sponsored channels that YouTube has been funding this past year.  I love Crash Course and SciShow, and I don't mind Felicia Day's channel so much that it makes me want to unsubscribe.  Of course, I don't want those channels to jump up to a pay model -- especially with Crash Course and SciShow, that would kind of defeat the purpose.  But they do make a great proof of concept that YouTube creators can generate consistent, high-quality content that's worth a greater investment than just "You have access to our upload page."

Imagine if Tor had a YouTube channel, that financed quality adaptations of sci fi and fantasy books, the way HBO is doing for Game of Thrones.  Imagine if getting enough subscribers and jumping over to YouTube had been an option for Joss Whedon when Firefly got cancelled.

According to AdAge.com,

It's not clear which channels will be part of the first paid-subscription rollout, but it is believed that YouTube will lean on the media companies that have already shown the ability to develop large followings on the video platform, including networks like Machinima, Maker Studios and Fullscreen. YouTube is also looking outside its current roster of partners for candidates.

I don't think it would go over very well with fans if old channels threw up a paywall for all their new content.  But I think those channels could expand into higher quality, higher production-value work, that would go up on a new channel, and I think external producers of higher-level content might be able to step down on the payscale the way groups like Machinima would be stepping up -- like, imagine if Pixar had a channel, that just produced those shorts from the start of their movies?

This is a great example of the kinds of things that the internet and companies like Google are doing, not just to open up new opportunities for existing art to thrive, but to create new levels at which art can be successful, unpinned from the constraints of pre-existing time slots or demand based on which advertisers were willing to pay.

Reason #65 I'm not voting for Romney

His ads. Specifically, his ads on individual blog posts on Boing Boing[1. Also: what the hell, Boing Boing?] that start playing an audio track that you can only shut off by clicking on it. I don't want to click on Romney ads.  I don't want to hunt through my open tabs to find the one where an ad just started playing.  And I will not support a candidate whose comprehension of the basic principles of web communities is so poor that he think, or his campaign thinks, that it's okay to create ads that invasive.

There are a lot of broad principles flavored reasons I don't support Romney.  But the terrible decisions conservative campaigns so frequently make also speak to their basic lack of interest in the quality of life of the people who vote for them.  Romney's ads aren't just dishonest, needlessly combative, and emotionally exploitative.  They're also annoying, and they make the parts of the internet on which they show up a worse place.

The moral problems of Big Data

Cory Doctorow linked to a great article about the civil rights implications of data collection. By the way, data collection is totally a civil rights issue.  Alistair Croll explains,

“Personalization” is another word for discrimination. We’re not discriminating if we tailor things to you based on what we know about you — right? That’s just better service.

There's a lot of information you can get out of the amount of data that corporations gather about their customers -- and a lot of ways that information can be used in damaging ways.  There was a case in which Target accidentally outed pregnant teens to their families by mailing them personalized catalogs close to entirely about things like baby carriages and diapers.

Croll raises the issue of that sort of information being figured into issues like bank loans or housing.  That's a big problem -- it means existing trends of social dysfunction will implicitly get reinforced.

If I collect information on the music you listen to, you might assume I will use that data in order to suggest new songs, or share it with your friends. But instead, I could use it to guess at your racial background. And then I could use that data to deny you a loan.

It doesn't even matter if they actually try to guess your race.  If the trends among fans of a particular band is that they're less likely to make their loan payments, then being part of a particular musical subculture can unfairly affect your ability to get loans.  And musical taste often does break down along the traditional lines of discrimination -- race, gender, sexuality.

Eli Pariser discussed this issue in his book, The Filter Bubble, which explores a huge variety of the ways in which the massive amount of data companies gather about us is potentially (and often practically) a very bad thing.

Ideally, citizens on the internet need to be empowered to decide how their data is used.  But Croll points out that it's a lot easier to say that's a good thing than to actually make it happen:

The only way to deal with this properly is to somehow link what the data is with how it can be used. I might, for example, say that my musical tastes should be used for song recommendation, but not for banking decisions.

Tying data to permissions can be done through encryption, which is slow, riddled with DRM, burdensome, hard to implement, and bad for innovation. Or it can be done through legislation, which has about as much chance of success as regulating spam: it feels great, but it’s damned hard to enforce.

Croll calls it the civil rights issue of our generation. I think LGBTQ rights still tops it for urgency, and none of the old civil rights problem are really gone, entirely, but he's right that this is a massive issue, and it needs more attention.  Organizations with a lot of power have a bad record for looking out for the rights of the people they have that power over.

Something that needs to stop

I've complained about ads a lot here -- we need to have some kind of policy reform on advertising, or at least some kind of advisory board, that gives advertisers a seal of approval, like registering plumbers. One of the big things that needs to be on that list is ads that look like the content the site is offering.

This picture is from the BBC's US and Canada news page:

Here are some of the problems I see with this ad:

  • The only indications that it's an ad are in small print, off to the side.
  • They're in an image/text format similar to the format of the actual articles on the BBC page
  • Many people skim headlines, and come to conclusions about reality based on those.  That's the problem with articles titled things like "Is Obama a communist?" -- even if the bulk of the article is saying "No, absolutely not, what are you even talking about," you're still misinforming people scanning the page.
  • The ad company's logo looks similar at a glance to AP's logo.

You see this kind of treatment all over the internet.  Google's ads look like search results.  Ads on filesharing sites have huge "CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD" buttons.

Ads aren't intrinsically bad.  It's possible to have advertising that's about connecting interested customers with worthy products, and that's a mutually beneficial arrangement.  But this kind of advertising isn't about helping out the customers.  It's about harvesting the potential monetary residue of lazy browsing habits, at the cost of net trust in the world.

I don't want my internet to be a collection of pit traps.  I don't want there to not be ads -- I've found some stuff I really like that I heard about because it was advertised.  But I don't want every webpage to have links that look like they're going to give me cool new content, and are actually just going to deliver me to a sales staff.