When doing research on the use and abuse of privacy data on the Internet I bumped again on the case of the media corperation Advance. I pointed to it before and I was allowed to re-publish Karin Spaink’s article about it. Wondering how it had developed I discovered that there were no texts about it in English, and that is a pitty, because what Advance is doing is probably done by others on the Net, so I decided to cross the language barrier.
Advance Interactive Media is not only collecting privacy data, it does also hunt these data actively putting all kind of eliciting questionnaires on a range of sites (Je echte leeftijd, Volgens mama, VerjaardagsAlarm). Also the questionnaires are often linked to TV-programs of SBS and RTL, both popular stations in The Netherlands. Ironically, Joop van den Ende’s investment trust owns 30% of Advance. Joop van den Ende was one of the owners of Endemol, the television production company that developed the format of ‘Big Brother’.
Advance says to have an ‘interactive relation’ with 2,2 million Dutch people (of about 15 million). Of 300,000 it possesses more than 100 personal characteristics. Of course Advance collects these data to sell them to other companies. One of the big pharmaceutical corporations who had a contract with Advance was Pfizer. The Dutch Privacy Commission CBP has started an inquiry following an article in the ‘Volkskrant’.
|Are you satisfied with the appearance of your penis? Is your partner satisfied about it? How often do you have a spontaneous erection during the day without sexual activity? Do you have sexual desires you can not fulfil in your relation? How often do you masturbate: More than once a day/ once a day/ at least twice a week/ a few times a month/ never? How do you feel about perfumes related to sex like fresh transpiration, vaginal moisture and sperm? Exciting/ pleasant/ acceptable/ not pleasant/ repulsive? If pharmaceuticals would have been a solution for your problem, would you want to pay for it? Are you gay?http://www.jeechteleeftijd.nl/|
People are not aware about the fact that when they fill in such a questionnaire, they are not doing this anonymously. The IP-number of the computer they are using to access Internet is unique and is saved in the logs of the site they are visiting. Since people also fill in all kind of forms on the Internet where they give free all their personal data, using the same IP-number, the simplest trick is to have both anonymous questionnaires and other forms for instance, online games, competitions, e-shops etc. and then connecting both using the IP-number as key.
Advance had many of these game-like websites, funny, informative question and answer games that promise something, financial tips, ways to become a millionaire, also some very personal one’s about your health. To participate you have to provide data on your smoking habits, drug- or aolcohol use, genital herpes, your estimated IQ, the fortune of your parents, where you are shopping, brand, type and licence plate of your car, what charity initiatives you support, who are your friends, their birthday and so on. And Advance admitted that you could not see all these websites were connected.
Advance earned a lot of money that way. The most successful concept connected TV-programs to websites where viewers/visitors left an extensive personal profile in exchange for consumer information. The information is often linked to commercial offers of companies that pay for it. That way Advance cashes twice. Almost all big market companies are using it. Postbak, ING, TNT-post, VGZ assurances and Microsoft are partners of Advance. Surprisingly or not, we do not find Google in this list, but of course Google has it’s own collecting machine of private data. In fact Advance only redesigned Google’s concept of linking a search engine to contextual advertisement. Once norms and rules about advertising start to fade away, one never knows where it will be ending.
The advance case is bad news for advertising. It undermines the trust of general public. We could suggest that they will be pushing their luck that close to the edge, that they fall over it, but this is to be taken serious right now, we cannot wait for self destruction. A pharmaceutical firm collecting privacy data is bad news. Jeroen Trommelen asked Phizer and Advance how they were collaborating. Advance Director Frans De Vries states that they deliver all the data, also the IP-addresses, names and addresses though that these remain the property of Advance:
“…information can only be used according our conditions. In this case, names and addresses were not used. The test had an educational purpose.”
As to Phizer they only received the outcome of the tests but not the names and addresses:
“We do not want them at all.”
But other Advance clients asked for email addresses. FNV, the Dutch trade Union had a contract with Advance for a job advice site, GoNoGo and did send a mail when one filled in not to be a member of the Trade Union. That a trade union lowers itself to such methods is a crying shame. The number of visitors to the website remained below expectance range however.
Not all Advanced clients ware satisfied. A budget organisation NIBUD was asked by SBS to research on a format ‘More for less’ with the TV station SBS6. The program would give advice to save money and to have a beter budget management. But NIBUD director Gerjoke Wilmink was scared to death when he saw their logo was used to sell all kind of senseless advice.
Another website asked for: Do you know whitch paper your neighbours read? Do you have cash credit…
When the Berlin Wall collapsed, all democrats in the West were full of indignation about the intrusion of the Stasi into private lifes in Eastern Germany. Today, private firms spy on us, collect data saying that it is perfectly legal what they are doing as to one of the directors of Advance:
“We are fulfilling the demands of the branche organisation for dialogue marketing, DDMA, and these are even more severe than the law.”
What am I missing here?
Orwell’s 1984 revisited: Uberveillance
at Permanent Bewaakte Zones
at The Googlization of Everything