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Total Informationally Aware Advertising

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fishrushPerson was signed in when posted
11:20 AM ET (US)
We’re no longer talking about recording the keystrokes or URL referrer logs of an individual ‘computer user’. Now we’re talking about video and audio recording of EVERYONE in the same room, office, cubicle, proximity etc - regardless of whether or not those inhabitants of the pc’s vicinity have granted a “perpetual allowance” to be spied upon.

You can’t possibly be suggesting, via the “phone bug” analogy that because some government agencies have the ability to legally bug our telephones, we should give Flash enabled advertisers the ability to bug our homes as well?

Secondly, no one in their right mind would grant a “permanent allowance” to be spied upon by any advertising company, would they?

This seems to be a worthless-garbage-novelty feature that detracts from the many nice features of Flash MX and player. Its inclusion should be seriously reconsidered in upcoming versions.
Stacy Young
09:57 AM ET (US)
Dude you're out to lunch.

Your telephone receiver could be used as a listening device (or bug) in much the same manner and is even more accessible than Flash technology.

One could argue that you have to physically pick-up the receiver in order to allow for any communication...well it's the same for the Flash player.

The player can't do anything unless you explicitly give it permission to do so in EVERY instance.

09:42 PM ET (US)
This is total bullshit. No company is going to use the Mickey Mouse Flash MX video capabilities for any type of serious intra or inter company communications. The defenders of this crap must be some priggish techno-nerd-dork-shills working for those freaking advertising bastards.
Administrator X
07:55 PM ET (US)
Tom is a dufus.
Flash Evangelist
07:54 PM ET (US)
What a paranoia attack this guy is having.
tom's rubbishPerson was signed in when posted
06:51 PM ET (US)
I just posted this over at JD's MX blog, where we are conversing about the issue of risk. What I keep coming back to is that the belief common to the techno-community that the effects of technological innovation can be (a) predicted, (b) managed securely and (c) communicated with a minimum of muss and fuss is perhaps a tad overly sanguine:

I think I can see more clearly now how the gap between producer and end user is less just a fillable hole and more like a discontinuity. You invite me to point to "ambiguities," but the problem is that we are less in a realm of ambiguity - a relatively mild form of semantic suspense - than in a mode of radical uncertainty. See, for example, a comment like this on a blog I just now ran across:

"I don't believe the reassurances that users will have to click "allow" because we already see the tendencies of interfaces to use default settings and "opt out" clauses that are very hard for newbies to be aware of or even find--these border collie web-style herding exercises online being mostly practiced by Microsoft in setting browser defaults for the helper PLUGINs. Yeah, them again." (from

The point is, we are beyond clarifying ambiguous speech and far into the realm of trust, confusion, and potential mischief. There is no way some privacy manual is going to dispel this. I do have one suggestion: Every ad and every instance of Flash 6 which carries this capability should have a warning label clearly in evidence: e.g., "Caution - this ad could be watching or listening to you - click for details." Anything less obtrusive just doesn't meet the standard for respecting the privacy of people at home or at work.
tom's rubbishPerson was signed in when posted
02:35 PM ET (US)
The lemur has emailed a couple more host file links: this and this.
Edited 11-27-2002 02:35 PM
01:54 PM ET (US)
Your privacy concerns are indeed important. But I think it's worth looking at this from a practical point of view: say there are a thousand people viewing that ad at any given time. What organization has the resources to devote to listening to and watching a thousand audio/video streams coming from random websurfers? And if they had those resources, why would they want to? What useful information would they get? Most of what they would see would be random people staring intently at the screen, with an occasional laugh or curse or mutter.

If you could target a specific person with a specific ad, then I can imagine (if the technology weren't designed to prevent it) that you could spy on that person with some mechanism vaguely along these lines. But if you put something up on the web, chances are very good that there would be too many people viewing at any given time to track.

So regardless of whether it's possible to spy on someone this way, it's just not very efficient; that alone would prevent most hypothetical black-hat organizations from using it as a spying technique.

On another note, there's some interesting fiction about people discovering that their radio or their TV is capable of secretly broadcasting as well as receiving; I think it's a common fear that any device capable of letting you observe other people has the potential to be turned on you. And not entirely ungrounded; I think I've read that it's fairly easy to turn a telephone into an always-on bug, given physical access to the telephone. Interesting sociologically, if nothing else.
tom's rubbishPerson was signed in when posted
01:30 PM ET (US)

Flash geek: the model may well be proper, but that does not mean it has been properly communicated to end users. The gap between Macromedia (and its developers') understanding and that of the average end user is not overcome simply by "doing it right." A rift stands between the professional knowledge of the geek and the amateur ignorance of the average user, one that the geek often ignores. Who then can say, who is the more "ignorant?"
Edited 11-27-2002 01:31 PM
Flash geek
11:38 AM ET (US)
The privacy concerns you raise are important ones. I believe that your concerns are addressed by Macromedia's opt-in model for mic/camera privacy. You state that "apparently without having to obtain our express informed consent," however, you would need to right-click and choose the Settings menu, then choose "Allow" in order to enable the use of the camera and/or microphone.
michael gunn
01:21 AM ET (US)
Uh, Tom... I think you might be a tad bit too paranoid...

You write, "Macromedia has contracts with the Defense Dept. and Air Force" and link to Macromedia's showcase page. The only reference to these two gov't agencies/armed forces is where there is a link and case study about how the Air Force and Defense Dept. have incorporated Flash and MM technologies into their websites.

Simply because Macromedia desires to talk about and link to a high-profile site that uses their technology successfully, does not in any way indicate a contract of any kind.

Do you make contracts with every site you link to and discuss? Hopefully not.


michael gunn
stavrosthewonderchickenPerson was signed in when posted
12:21 AM ET (US)
I use and recommend this hosts file to block unwanted ads and such.

claus wahlers
03:49 PM ET (US)
jakob, so you surf to (for example) and before clicking the banner (if you wanted to) you view the html to see where it take you to?
so where does,sfos0943en take you to? (this is the link on the gif-banner there)
instead of blaming macromedia you should blame the company that books the ad. advertisers usually care a shit about usability and (especially) transparency.
Jacob Lyles
01:24 PM ET (US)
One thing that I really don't like about ads displayed using Macromedia's flash player is the inability to right-click (Or Command Click) on them and choose something like "Properties" or "open in new window", etc.

So, I am instead left to dig into the webpage HTML to see who is serving the ad and I have no clue as to where the ad will take me if I click on it.

Bad Macromedia, BAD!!!

fishrushPerson was signed in when posted
11:30 AM ET (US)
Isn't recording video and audio images of anyone within range of the webcam and mic of the pcs in our home a little different than gathering other types of marketing info?

Let's say that we voluntarily enable the "allow" feature. Do the web sites gathering this info disclose anywhere on the site that they are gathering it?
Edited 11-26-2002 11:55 AM
Phil ThompsonPerson was signed in when posted
11:09 AM ET (US)
Uh, created that ad, not Doubleclick.

Sigh. Another uninformed loser blames DoubleClick for all the problems of the internet. That is soooo 1999. Join the hordes over at Slashdot.

Once upon a time I worked at DoubleClick. They really don't track a thing. The justice dept actually crawled up their ass with a video camera and analyzed their log files, etc and found a startling revelation: THEY AREN'T TRACKING SHIT. Feel free to surf those porn sites with a clear conscience.

DoubleClick is really just a glorified ISP. They just target the advertising niche. Why aren't people afraid of Akamai, who has detailed logfiles (if they want) about all kinds of sites? Referrer logs contain some interesting stuff, it's what you do with them that matters.
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