Privacy and Middlemen

Privacy and Middlemen: One of the biggest struggles in the online privacy debate is finding a solution that provides transparency to consumers without overwhelming them. It’s a simple reality that the online ad system is mind-numbingly complex, filled with a cast of characters that I’d bet a majority of the industry would struggle to accurately identify. Simply install Ghostery and check out all the middlemen involved when you hit a site. Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, believes any privacy bill should make the bargain of what’s OK with data between the publisher and consumer. This is a neat compromise, one that of course takes middlemen like Bluekai off the hook of educating consumers. Will this fly when publishers have so many relationships with third parties? In Tawakol’s vision, users would have a blunt choice: They could opt out of targeting, but then publishers could refuse them access or require them to pay.

A Flipboard Killer from AOL?: Wonders never cease. AOL’s lagging technology chops are frequently highlighted, particularly since it chose to focus squarely on content. But it still has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as its new well-received iPad content aggregator AOL Editions. The app has been described as like The Daily, only with stories you care about. AOL is competing with a raft of competitors like Flipboard and Zite in helping tablet readers organize their content with an attractive presentation. The interesting part, for a content company like AOL: Editions doesn’t favor AOL content at all.

AOL, Zombie Brand: For a different take on AOL, there’s no shortage of doubters. It seems like AOL has been in perpetual decline. It’s hard to remember that it was once the dominant consumer Internet company of its era. But for the past eight years, it’s been engaged in a slow-moving quest to refashion itself from a dialup-Internet-service business to a content company. Tim Armstrong has doubled down on that since coming on board two years ago. He pushed even more chips into the middle of the table with his $315 million purchase of The Huffington Post. But maybe it’s a brand problem at its root. At, Jeff Bercovici quotes analyst Trip Chowdhry as saying the AOL brand is “dead,” saying the company is in a “zombie state” that keeps it just hanging around. He suggests The Huffington Post should liberate itself from the AOL yoke ASAP. This is unlikely to happen. Armstrong, after all, ordered up a review of the AOL brand when he first joined, finding it still had resonance with consumers, if apparently not equities analysts.

Why People Share: In the Facebook era, it’s all about sharing. But why do people do it? The New York Times commissioned a study to find out. Its results are what you’d expect. People want to say something about themselves with the content they share. That makes the sharing era far different from the search era. Content producers need to develop content that is inherently social.

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