Online Deceptive Ads Cost Millions

To settle FTC charges of deceptive advertising, ValueClick (and its subsidiaries—we’ll just use ValueClick, for short) agreed to pay $2.9 million. In addition to the civil penalty, among other things, ValueClick agreed to conspicuously disclose costs and obligations associated with “free” products. ValueClick is also precluded from making any deceptive claims about the security of a consumer’s information collected by its websites. The FTC charged that ValueClick attracted web traffic using deceptive e-mails, online banner ads and pop-ups claiming individuals were eligible for “free” gifts, but instead were required to plow through and participate in tiresome and potentially expensive third-party offers in order to receive the “free” products. With respect to the security of consumer information, ValueClick’s privacy policies represented that customer information was encrypted—but that either there was no encryption, or a non-standard, insecure form of encryption was used. The proposed order would require ValueClick have a comprehensive security program and obtain independent thirdparty assessments of their programs for 20 years. This is not the first time the FTC has brought an enforcement action against “lead generating” companies, and certainly among a string of cases relating to the data security and information security practices of companies handling non-public consumer information.

Upcoming Events

Joseph I. Rosenbaum will be speaking at the Virtual Worlds Conference in New York (April 3–4) on the subject of Marketing to Children in Virtual Worlds: At Play or As Prey? exploring the emerging use of virtual worlds to advertise and market, exploit, educate and entertain children. Joe will also be a panelist at the 40th International Advertising Association Conference in Washington, D.C. April 7 on the subject of Mobile Mayhem.

Useless But Compelling Facts – January 2008 Answer

Last issue we asked if you can tell us how many times, since official records have been kept, Niagara Falls has frozen over completely. Congratulations to Shari Gottesman, one of our loyal readers and a past prize winner, who very quickly responded by correctly telling me that the flow of water is too great for all of Niagara Falls to completely freeze—although there have been ice bridges that have formed and the American Falls were stopped six times since records have been kept because of ice jams. There are claims that the Falls completely froze in 1911, and in 1912, people were allowed to walk across the ice bridges even though water was still flowing underneath. Unfortunately, the bridges broke and the practice halted. Congratulations Shari, and I’m going to figure out a bigger prize for your loyalty!

Are You For Real?

In the 1960s, Stanley Milgrim, then a psychologist at Yale University, conducted a controversial experiment. In an obviously controlled setting for the study, Milgrim and his associates directed their subjects to give ever-increasing electrical shocks to strangers whenever they gave the wrong answer to questions in a test of memory. The strangers were really actors pretending to experience pain and did not actually receive any jolts of electricity. The study, intended to measure how compliant people would be to obey authority figures, even to the point of inflicting pain on otherwise innocent individuals, was disturbing, to say the least. The subjects, despite some discomfort at first, continued to “shock” the test-taking actors. The experiment raised ethical concerns about subject study methodologies, among other things.

However, recently, Mel Slater, a computer scientist at University College London in England (with a joint appointment to the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona), reproduced this experiment without running afoul of the ethical concerns that the original study raised. Mr. Slater conducted his experiment in a virtual world where test-taking “victims” were avatars whose expressions changed from happy to pained in response to the actions of participants in the study—much the same way the real-life actors did more than 40 years ago. Not only were the results astonishingly similar, but to the surprise of many, the real-life participants experienced increased heart rates and described feelings of regret or feeling badly about delivering electrical shocks—even though they knew the strangers on the other side of the screens were avatars and not real people!

Continue reading “Are You For Real?”

Video Games Become a Taxing Subject

Did you know that Louisiana offers a 20 percent tax credit against expenditures for video game developers and certain other interactive digital media companies that are based there? This digital media tax credit is not unique to Louisiana. In 2005, Atlanta began a program of providing tax incentives to digital media, and a number of other places have begun to attract development using tax incentives as well.

Test Data? Really?

Are you using real customer data for testing? In a recent survey, well over 60 percent of IT professionals use live customer data for application testing and for software development. Guess how many IT professionals outsource application testing (and share live data with the testing company)—about 50 percent. Worried about sensitive data? Compliance with data breach statutes? Privacy concerns? Is this a potential gap in the security wall many companies build around their networks? You bet. Could it be a big compliance, legal and regulatory problem? Bigger bet. While live customer data is obviously the most representative for testing, it’s also the most risky. What can you do? Use fake data. Anonymize or sanitize real data. Use encryption. Limit access and strengthen contract, monitoring and audit controls. We know privacy and security, regulation and compliance. Call us.

Microsoft Bidding for Yahoo!

It’s all about the advertising. Get it? In 2007, researchers estimate that there were well more than 2 billion views of progressive download or streaming media every month! That doesn’t even include user-generated content. Translated into dollars, that means that revenue from advertising associated with streaming video and audio grew to about $1.37 billion—just under 40 percent growth from the year before. Still not convinced, almost half a billion dollars were generated from pre-roll advertising—the ads shown before a streamed television program. Don’t expect these numbers to start falling anytime soon. Even if the economy slows in 2008, the relatively cost-effective ability to create, distribute and measure digital advertising across a variety of media platforms and formats, wired and wireless, will likely not slow down. Go Giants! Go Gadgets! Go Widgets!