Friday, December 23, 2011

"Using Google’s Data to Sell Thermometers to Mothers"

I have been known to rant about advertising, which is intended to induce people to buy products they would not otherwise buy. In other words, advertising strives to manipulate behavior; it is (or wants to be) a kind of mind control. Perfect advertising would be perfect mind control. For this reason I deplore any advances in the art or science of advertising.

We learn in this New York Times article (Andrew Adam Newman, Dec. 22, 2011) of an advertising campaign for children's thermometers. The ads appear in "popular apps like Pandora," but only on devices used by mothers who live in areas experiencing a high rate of flu and who live "within two miles of retailers that carry the thermometer."
"Flu levels in your area are high," says the banner ad within an app. "Be prepared with [product name]."
This breakthrough in advertising is made possible by Google Flu Trends, a predictive model for flu outbreaks using Google's massive database of Internet searches. The model has "a reporting lag of only about a day, outdoing C.D.C. flu reports, which typically are published a week or two after breakouts."

Arguably, the thermometer advertisers are performing a public service. I know from experience that it can be hard to take the temperature of a baby or toddler, and easier methods are welcome. It's also important to know whether your child has a fever and, if so, how severe it is. Getting the word out could be useful to mothers and even life-saving for children.

So I don't really object to this campaign. But I do deplore the advance in mind control.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Monday, December 12, 2011

"One Million Apps, and Counting"

From "One Million Apps, and Counting" by Shelly Freierman (New York Times, December 11, 2011):
The pace of new app development dwarfs the release of other kinds of media. “Every week about 100 movies get released worldwide, along with about 250 books,” said Anindya Datta, the founder and chairman of Mobilewalla which helps users navigate the mobile app market. “That compares to the release of around 15,000 apps per week.”
That's a lot of apps. If 0.1% of them were defective in a way that would compromise a user's privacy or security, that would be just 15 dangerous apps per week, or about 1,000 so far. Good odds, or bad?

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director