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Ad Measurement Is Going High-Tech 107

Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "A media-measurement company called IMMI is giving panel participants special cellphones that can take reliable sound samples to track consumer behavior. 'Those snippets -- taken every 30 seconds and altered mathematically so any conversation is made unintelligible -- are transmitted continuously to IMMI,' the Wall Street Journal reports. 'Sounds from headphone devices such as iPods can be transmitted to the cellphones with a wireless accessory. IMMI has been building a database of sound signatures, with help from customers testing the company's services as well as with CD content it has licensed.' The idea is to use the sound signatures to test what media consumers are exposed to -- everything from radio music to movie trailers."
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Ad Measurement Is Going High-Tech

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  • by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:19PM (#15087419)

    'Those snippets -- taken every 30 seconds and altered mathematically so any conversation is made unintelligible

    And of course the folks whose servers this stuff ends up on also have a way to unencode the original soundbite. Even if they say they can't, don't or "would never do such a thing," given the current poor behavior of media / marketing corporations, why trust them?

  • Doesn't there get a point when marketing departments consume too much information in the quest to find out the spending habbits of every sentient creature in the universe?

    I mean... Can't you just make things people need and find useful and if they need it they'll come to you?

    Or am I mistaken... Are they just trying to convince all sentient beings they must buy things they never knew they needed to buy?

    Either way... I hope they pay the panel participants good money for tracking them around town.
    • by temojen ( 678985 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:26PM (#15087483) Journal
      Can't you just make things people need and find useful and if they need it they'll come to you?

      Yes, but that's not where the money is. The money is in making the consumer dissatisfied and convincing them that your product will satisfy them, then not satisfying them so they'll buy again.

    • Geez, where have you been. There's no money in honesty like that! How are all the marketing creeps supposed to feed their kids?

      Really, this is kind of like the next level of spyware. Instead of watching your cyber-life on the Internet, they watch your real life, in the real world. Soon enough, these people will have lawyer'ized this crap into your cell phone, your iPod, your PDA, your notebook, your car, your place of business, your kids, and everything else you pack up and carry around with you, wit
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Doesn't there get a point when marketing departments consume too much information in the quest to find out the spending habbits of every sentient creature in the universe?"

      The problem isn't "too much" information. It's finding the "correct" information.

      "I mean... Can't you just make things people need and find useful and if they need it they'll come to you?"

      Flip answer: and they're going to determine this through what? Mindreading? Also things cost. Success costs. Failures cost even more. Are you willing t
  • I don't get it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spazmonkey ( 920425 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:22PM (#15087449)
    altered mathematically to make unintellilligible? How exactly, then, do they tell what advertising, programs, and other media you are exposed to? Something here doesn't add up. Mainly, why in the hell would people agree to be carrying around an overt bugging device with the sole stated intent of monitoring thier actions?
    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The point is that they're trying to get us used to be monitored at all times, under all conditions. Consider this "training" for what is probably going to follow in the coming decade, where your entire life is documented, blogged, videod and recorded from hundreds of places at once.

      Put all that together, and you can have a very interesting series of profiles on a person's behavior. With enough data behind it, you can begin to profile what type of humans do what type of things, with a good percentage of re

      • But if we don't let the government monitor our actions and tell us what to do, the terrorists will destroy democracy [wikipedia.org]!
        • Or, put another way, to reiterate a quote whose source I can no longer recall:

          If we allow terrorists to take away our basic freedoms then the terrorists have already won.

          The terrorists have already won.

    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Joseph_V ( 908814 )
      One-way hashing would do this relatively easily. Similar to passwords if you hash the original content and then the tested content and they match there is a very high probability that it is the same original content. It is also irreversible (in bounded time).

      Either way I'm not picking one up, I'll go to hand-crank radio and telegrams before I become a beacon of marketing information.
      • So your phone or whatever records some audio clip, sends it to this server where for the sake of argument it is one-way hashed. So that leaves them with...what? A hash of a sound recorded by you at time X? How exactly is that worth ANYTHING?

        I also don't see how hashing would allow you to find similar sound clips, it seems to me most of them would be unique and even similar "adjacent" sounds would have a unique hash.

        How much do you wanna bet this mathematical alteration is just a FFT?
    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by panaceaa ( 205396 )
      The business model for this product would likely parallel the business models for online spyware companies, such as Gator/Claria. That is: Give people something they want for free, and then bundle some things they may be okay with having too. For example, maybe this device could be embedded into free iPods? And since many people go everywhere with their iPods, the ad measurement device is always there to do it's thing. Personally I would just buy an iPod on my own, but there are many teenagers who don't
      • Re:I don't get it. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Otter ( 3800 )
        I think it's more like Nielsen boxes -- a demographically meaningful sample of people is paid to carry these things around with them.

        If the hashing scheme people are speculating about is how this works, I'd say that's pretty damn clever, whatever the ethical merits. And honestly, the ethical issues don't strike me as a huge deal. On my list of privacy concerns, knowing whether I'm forced to listen to Holly Jolly Christmas more or less than Here Comes Santa Claus in the supermarket in December doesn't rate

        • Damnit, now I have "Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane!" stuck in my head. At least it's not that horrible "Pa rum pa pum pum" song ... uh, oh...

          Now, that would be some cool technology, to identify songs that are stuck in consumers' heads. And you know they'd lie to the researchers, who'd be saying "Sorry, sir, that looks a lot like Hit Me Baby One More Time to me."

        • December, hell! It's getting closer and closer to September. Every year, some big retailer backs up the start date just another couple of days. It's getting to the point where leaving the Christmas lights up all year is practical. Maybe the Rednecks were right on that point.
    • altered mathematically to make unintellilligible? How exactly, then, do they tell what advertising, programs, and other media you are exposed to?

      Sounds like the same one way hashing that applications like P2P use or music fingerprinting. Of course this assumes we should trust that they really are hashing it and/or they are not searching for other keywords?

      Everyday when I think marketing and data mining have gone too far in the country, another technique is announced which is even worse.

      If we have a governm

    • Presumably this is just a one-way function (not that i'd trust them on this, but this is how I would implement it if I wanted to do it 'right'). A one way function maps A->B in a way that A is unrecoverable, but always maps A->B, so if, for example, you wanted to know how many people hear the budweiser wassup commercial:

      wassup commercial recorded in database -> Z132339944
      wassup commercial recorded over your phone -> Z132339944
      your random conversation recorded over your phone -> AB33444993

      So
      • "They know what a Z132339944, that's the wassup commercial. They have no idea what a AB33444993, so they have no way to find out what your conversation was about."

        As long as AT&T is not one of their 'partners' .........
    • altered mathematically to make unintellilligible? How exactly, then, do they tell what advertising, programs, and other media you are exposed to?

      In geek terms: it computes hashes of the audio, sending the hashes back to base, each with a timestamp. You compute a set of hashes of the audio (CDs, movies, ads, whatever) you wish to monitor. At base you compare the hashes recorded by your panellists with your database of hashes.

      Something here doesn't add up. Mainly, why in the hell would people agree to

    • >>altered mathematically so any *conversation* is made unintelligible (emphasis added)
      >altered mathematically to make unintellilligible? How exactly, then, do they tell what advertising, programs, and other media you are exposed to?

      Maybe they run it through a transform that leaves music recognizable but makes human speech unintelligible, like a train station PA system.
    • Uhm, one-way hash functions.

      I wouldn't trust them, but this isn't unfeasible.

    • Mainly, why in the hell would people agree to be carrying around an overt bugging device with the sole stated intent of monitoring thier actions?

      Not only are they bugged, when they're out in public, everyone around them is bugged too. I'm pretty sure this would be illegal in some places. Maybe some privacy group could lobby congress to get this practice banned.
  • TRMs (Score:5, Informative)

    by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:26PM (#15087493) Homepage
    Sounds kinda like Relatable's TRM [relatable.com] fingerprints, which are used by MusicBrainz [musicbrainz.org] and in the Neuros [neurosaudio.com] audio player.

    IIRC, the fingerprints don't have any actual content in them, but instead describe the characteristics of the audio. So it's plausible, at least, that they can't listen in on your conversations, but could still uniquely identify what you're listening to.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:27PM (#15087499) Homepage
    So if I have lunch at Taco Bell, and go to the restroom when I get back to work, from the sound signature they can figure out how "explosive" the newest menu item is?
  • ***Slowly tapes microphone on cell phone***
  • I'm just curious what Fart sound signatures might mean to advertisers and marketing agencies.
    • > I'm just curious what Fart sound signatures might mean to advertisers and marketing agencies.

      ...the subset of the $14M in survey-handed-out cellphones that were used by viewers of movie trailers, who subsequently went to the movie theater?

  • great. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snark23 ( 122331 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @04:34PM (#15087567) Homepage
    The cell phone industry is a nice counter-example for anyone who insists that a free market is always good for the consumer, unless you redefine "consumer" as "wireless provider". NOBODY wants to carry around a phone that does what this article describes. Even those who aren't concerned about the privacy implications are going to be nonplussed by the fact that their batteries suddenly only last half as long because their phones are so busy processing and transmitting this marketing trash.

    And to broaden my rant: Who are these people who think that playing TV programs and games on a phone is a great idea? Where are these people? I would love to see all of the marketing and R&D dollars poured into these stupid, stupid features go instead into producing smaller phones that have increased range, longer battery life and a user interface not designed by a team of raccoons. Is that so ridiculous?
    • I would love to see all of the marketing and R&D dollars poured into these stupid, stupid features go instead into producing smaller phones that have increased range, longer battery life and a user interface not designed by a team of raccoons. Is that so ridiculous?

      Yes
    • I would agree, but add this - "clear conversations". I was promised it with TDMA/CDMA/GSM, etc. Everyone has it, apparently. However, even though I live in LA and have like 4 bars at the worst of times, my phone manages to make most calls sound like the person is underwater or talking through a fan. I've even tried upgrading phones!

      -WS
      • Random thought: Is your voice significantly higher or lower than the average population? Perhaps they're optimizing for the majority.
      • Re:great. (Score:3, Funny)

        by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        Have you tried not talking into fans when you are on the phone? Ask your friends to do the same.
    • And to broaden my rant: Who are these people who think that playing TV programs and games on a phone is a great idea?
      Me. And most of my friend. And no, we aren't in highschool; the youngest of us is 25.

      Where are these people? I would love to see all of the marketing and R&D dollars poured into these stupid, stupid features go instead into producing smaller phones that have increased range, longer battery life and a user interface not designed by a team of raccoons. Is that so ridiculous?


      Buy a nokia? Nok
      • And while I am quite the geek, my GF is not, nor are most of her friends.

        Do you really have a girlfriend, or are you just saying that so we won't all think, "I'll bet he doesn't have a girlfriend"? I'm talking about real girlfriends here, not the "friends" on MySpace that merely claim to be your friend (or female).

        [Sorry, that was rude. I don't know what got into me...]

        • *giggle*. You must be in a good mood, huh? :)

          She's real. The mood swings confirm that ;-) And she drags me to Salsa lessons. Real GF's are a PITA, but worth it.
          • *giggle*. You must be in a good mood, huh? :)

            That was after 3 pints of fine porter and IPA. It seemed clever at the time.

            Real GF's are a PITA, but worth it.

            Mine lives 500 miles away. That has its plusses and minusses, but on Friday night it was probably on the debit side of the ledger...

    • I would love to see all of the marketing and R&D dollars poured into these stupid, stupid features go instead into producing smaller phones that have increased range, longer battery life and a user interface not designed by a team of raccoons. Is that so ridiculous?

      Unfortunately, as of yet, nobody figured out how to implement a service where you get a longer battery life for a regular monthly fee. Once that happens, you can expect it to be everywhere. Just like with any other service that cellphone o
    • I have a feeling they pay a lot less for the marketing and R&D stuff than they do to build out capacity and these programs help them keep their utilization higher.

      Ringtones are a(I saw it somewhere) several billion dollar market. That's not chump change. Most people I know don't download them, but those dollars are coming from somewhere. The TV and other stuff seems to be the same way.

      I'm right there with ya on a phone that works really well as phone though. They don't need to get a whole lot smaller th
    • If the service were free I'd be happy to take this phone.

      I am right there with you on also wanting more research into light, smaller, more pure phones which is sort of what I have (pay as you go phone from Virgin Mobile that is mostly just a phone) but I can see a place for something like this device where you give them data in exchange for service.
    • NOBODY wants to carry around a phone that does what this article describes. Even those who aren't concerned about the privacy implications are going to be nonplussed by the fact that their batteries suddenly only last half as long because their phones are so busy processing and transmitting this marketing trash.

      Too much coffee? Didn't RTFA? This would not be a device secretly installed in cell phones. It would be a special device carried by recruited panellists. It's just a high tech way of doing contin

  • My friend is participating in this "study" he constantly leaves his phone near his computer playing the same mp3's over and over. Not that he is intentionally skewing the results, he just leaves his mp3s running all the time anyway. The reason he does it is for free cell service, but I could see this easily turning into something similar to the Ad click programs that everyone signed up for in the good ol days. Load up a program to click on ad's constantly and watch the checks roll in!
  • But, really .... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 )
    Who wants to be tagged like some wild animal so the media companies can tell you've been successfuly marketed to??

    Anybody who would be persuaded to wear one of these things is probably ready to buy anything you tell them about. Everyone else is going to be looking at it like "why on Earth would I do that?".

    Gah, how utterly creepy sounding. Then again, I'm pretty hostile to being marketed to, so I probably don't reflect a 'typical' view.
    • I'd like to poison their data. It'd be easy and fun.

      I'd never go to chain restaurants, never buy mainstream media, actively avoid anything I've noticed an ad campaign for. What little TV I watch doesn't have ads, the music I listen to is not mainstream, and if they can make anything of the fact that I watched 4 episodes of Farscape last weekend and listened to Big City Orchestra, they're my kind of marketers.

      If I could trust that the info was not being shared with law enforcement (big if) and didn't resul

  • Cell Phone Paranoia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob3141592 ( 225638 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:09PM (#15087857) Homepage
    Today it's Madison Avenue, tomorrow it's DHS.

    I presume most people here have read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, right? He pointed out decades ago that a phone can still operate even if the user isn't on it -- the phone is a ubiquitous bug, if anybody in control of the technology wants it to be used that way. We already know that cell phones have been used as medium resolution GPS trackers of people. Now we know that they are capable of listening in to our private moments as well.

    It wouldn't take much for the manufacturers to put in enough memory to store random or prescheduled episodes of speech from our environment, even if we thought our phones were off. These could later be transmitted in a burst to some gov't agency and we wouldn't even notice the power drain. And cell phones always remain somewhat enabled, even when the main power is off. It's possible the time could come when the gov't requires manufacturers to build in some kind of continuous monitoring capability in order to be given their licenses to use the airwaves. If they suspect you, or if they suspect they might suspect you, they can remotely enable this mode.

    This all sounds insanely paranoid to me, and now we have to to line our tin-foil hat with acoustic foam? There was a time not long ago when I'd dismiss anyone thinking about such things as a lunatic. But we have enough documented cases of policy corruption to go with the amazing advances in technology capabilities to make this all practical, if not practiced.

    Well, I'm not about to go live as a trapper in the woods, and the technological genie can't be forced back into the bottle. Hopefully we can return to a benign government of the people and avoid the headlong rush into a police state. Now there's a crazy idea!
    • It's possible the time could come when the gov't requires manufacturers to build in..[evil stuff]
      The solution to this, is for everyone to become [potentially] a manufacturer, or for there to be no centralized manufacturers. In other words, phones need to run Free Software.

      There are already so many reasons why this is a good idea (paying to download ringtones and upload pictures!?), but the threat of tyranny is always good for another.

    • In the UK the remote monitoring of local audio via the microphone using cell-phones (mobiles phones) by the police has been reported in reputable national media since at least mid 2005.

      The Financial Times (requires subscription) ran an article on this subject on 2nd of August 2005 here [ft.com]

      If ordered to do so, mobile telephone operators can also tap any calls, but more significantly they can also remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the mic

  • Does that mean Google has been using ticker tape all this time?
  • It's the apocalypse all right. I always assumed marketing would have a hand in it.

  • They should not have started the idea with marketing in mind. Instead they should have suggested that every cell phone be turned into monitors for the audio signature for gunfire similar to that used in high-crime cities and anti-sniper targeting systems in Iraq. Combined with the GPS in the same phone crime locations can be identified. If the shot is considered very proximal to the phone owner's location, it could call 911 for you, similar to the OnStar automatic emergency call triggered when air bags a
  • IMMI Website (Score:2, Informative)

    by awwaiid ( 936955 )
    is at http://immi.com/ [immi.com], btw.
  • ... I keep my cell phone securely under my tin foil hat when I'm not making calls.
  • Oh please,I seen that cheap trick already.Its encrypted and mixed with random noise. I don't believe it.
    If it was really scrambled it will be useless. Database of sound signatures?
    Doesn't it make really suspicious?
    Imagine a database of scrambled,one-second snippets of conversations(which have no content).How is that useful?

    "The company has developed software that helps the phones take samples of nearby sounds, which are identified by comparing them against a database."

    " says the technology can track exposur

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