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Google Lively Virtual World - Bread & Circuses for the Masses

Google announced the launch of Lively, a browser plug-in for Internet Explorer and Firefox which allows you to add virtual worlds to typical websites. Eventually they may charge for some of the advanced features, or they could monetize through the combination of search boxes and product placement advertising.

Google already has some patents for targeting ads in video games. This one was referenced here here:

For instance, users that spend a long time bartering instead of stealing in a game may suggests that they are interested in the best deals rather than the flashiest items so the system may show ads reflecting value. As another example, users that spend a lot of time exploring suggest that they maybe interested in vacations, so the system may show ads for vacations. As another example, users that spend a lot of time chatting instead of fighting or performing other activities in online games suggest that they like to chat, so the system may show ads for cell phones, ads for long distance plans, chat messengers, etc.

More recently Google has had their network node targeting/FriendRank patent approved, "A computer-implemented method for displaying advertisements to members of a network comprises identifying one or more communities of members, identifying one or more influencers in the one or more communities, and placing one or more advertisements at the profiles of one or more members in the identified one or more communities."

The more psychological data they can gather about users the better they can target ads...not just on the virtual world, but across search and a vast array of content websites. And they already have widgets for recommending the content and feeds you should consume, which feeds back some of your own selection errors, re-enforcing some of your flawed logic sequences and personal biases.

Indeed, one of Google's employees working for Google Health Advertising wrote the following on an official blog:

Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?

We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.

After blowback the former statement was attributed to the beliefs of just that employee, but the post is still live online.

Since they claim to be fairly agnostic and automated about their targeting, they can get away with showing a person writing that they are happily married an ad suggesting you cheat on your spouse.

Other big life choices (like getting a person hooked on unneeded anti-depressant drugs, killed in a bogus military operation, or stuck in bad financial situation) will be aided by relevancy showing where you are weak and easily exploitable. Given that drug companies spend so much on direct to consumer marketing and that many of their websites are outright fraud, at some point we should question how much personal data we want an advertising network to have about us.

You are being sold off to the highest bidder (which, in some cases, has the largest profit margins and can afford the exposure through outright fraud). You may never know how much any given click or suggestion could alter your life for the worse.

You can believe that most people are good, but it is hard to believe that amoral profit driven algorithms designed to find and exploit your weaknesses are. Pessimistic perhaps? Sure, but most people do not advertise to get you to buy less stuff and spread world peace.

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