Archive for the 'User Behavior & Trust' Category

*Empirical Research on Consumers’ Perspective of Keyword Advertising (II)

20121105_USF_teaserOtt (Links&Law) was so kind to point out a recent study by Franklyn/Hyman on consumer expectations and confusion when using trademarks as search terms.

As a starting point the study correctly states that “there has been little independent empirical work on consumer goals and expectations when they use trademarks as search terms; on whether consumers are actually confused by search results; and on which entities are buying trademarks as keywords. Instead, judges have relied heavily on their own intuitions, based on little more than armchair empiricism, to resolve such matters.Continue reading ‘*Empirical Research on Consumers’ Perspective of Keyword Advertising (II)’

*Google Slightly Changes Layout of Top-Ads – Further Blurring The Line Between Ads and Search Results?

Google announced on the 3rd of February that Top-Ads (these are the ads shown above the -organic- search results and placed on a coloured background) will be shown in a slightly different style in the future.

Ads on Google  are shown in a layout that is different from the layout of the (organic) search results. The different layouts thus might help users can (more easily) distinguish between them. The more similar the layout of ads are to the layout of search results, the more difficult it is for a user to correctly differentiate between the two.


Legal aspects:
From a legal point of view the differentiation between ads and search results is not only important from the point of the obligation to label commercial communication as such but also from a law of unfair competition point of view. As proven in the past by numerous ‘AdWords’-cases there also exists a trademark law aspect of this issue. Continue reading ‘*Google Slightly Changes Layout of Top-Ads – Further Blurring The Line Between Ads and Search Results?’

*’Instant Preview’ – One More ‘Instant’ Function On Google

About a month ago Google launched the ‘Instant Google‘ feature which rendered the ‘Search’-button kind of obsolete. While the ‘Instant Google’ feature might be highly interesting from an unfair competition law point of view (results are being shown already while the user is searching and thus users may be especially vulnerable for distractions etc.) the implications of the new ‘Instant Preview‘-feature onto currently ongoing TM-disputes should be considered.

The ‘Instant Previews’-feature enables users to see -after clicking on the magnifying glass besides the title of the search result- a preview (Google calls it a ‘image based snapshot‘) of the search result whilst remaining on the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). There is a also YouTube-Video available in the respective Google blog post.

 

Continue reading ‘*’Instant Preview’ – One More ‘Instant’ Function On Google’

*You Are What You Querying For: The AOL ‘Data Valdez’ Case of Thelma Arnold

A Short History Lesson: In July 2006 AOL offered a data-bank, containing the data of 20 million search queries by 680.000 AOL-users, for download on its website. Although the data was removed again shortly after, the data had found its way into the net and since then stayed there. This did not only prove as a PR-disaster (the ‘Data Valdez‘ case) but also triggered an interesting legal dispute (Does v. AOL LLC, Case No. C06-5866 SBA (N.D. Cal.; June 22, 2010).

Hendrick Speck already mentioned this case 3 years ago on the Suma e.v. conference but it took me until today (Thank You Links&Law) to get hold of the exactly facts of the case.

Although the AOL-users had been assigned random numbers to protect their identity it took reporters of the New York Times less than a month to identify at least one user (only) on the basis of the search queries of this user:

Continue reading ‘*You Are What You Querying For: The AOL ‘Data Valdez’ Case of Thelma Arnold’

*How Much Information Does A Search Query Reveal About A User?

One search query on its own might actually not reveal too much information about a user. If you however, keep logging the queries from one particular user one might very soon be able to gain interesting insights. At some point early this year Google extended its ‘personalized search’ function onto all users, not matter if they were logged into any Google service or not (explanation found >>here<<).

I was first confronted with this topic at the Suma e.v. conference in Berlin 2007. Hendrik Speck (a indeed humble man who even has a ‘My Quotes’ section on his website) mentioned in his speech search engine log files and talked in detail about how much information search engines could gain out of analysing them. In the example provided by Speck he talked -as far as I remember about an overweight, sick old lady who had some kind of fixation on cats. I didn’t really like the example and labelled the whole idea as ‘Google-Bashing‘.


My next encounter with this topic was when I was playing around with the Google Dashboard and was surprised to see that how precisely Google kept track of what I did and was even kind enough to tell me on which days I had been lazy, not doing much research for my blog or my thesis.

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Then, last week I stumbled across a ‘cute’ YouTube-video, on the German Basic Thinking Blog, telling a romantic story, just by showing the queries a user had typed in.

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Cute, as I’ve said, right? But… let’s take the idea a bit further:

I have repeatedly reported lengthy a service called TweetPsych which allows users to create kind of an psychological profile of any twitter feed, analysing the language used, the topics covered, the frequency of the posts, etc… The first worrying thing about this service is, that it works quite well. The second worrying thing is the idea of spreading this idea from a person’s twitter feed, which he deliberately had decided to publish freely on the internet, to a users search queries. Doing this we would be able not only to analyse a person’s interests but also its mood and even living habits.

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Most of you will now say, yes that’s what Google (Google Insight) does anyway. True. But the difference is that Google, at least that’s what they’ve communicated only do this on a large scale.

Interest in the search term 'Michael Jackson'... not so much apparently until his unexpected death

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Doing the same with just a single user takes the whole thing to a completely new level. I am not saying this because I am just another privacy-prayer hoping to get ‘street cred‘ for his words but to rephrase an idea I’ve heard from THE Austrian privacy activist (Hans Gerhard Zeger). [I know this idea isn’t entirely new, but I do think its worth being repeated many, many times…]

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If data/information about everybody is available, authorities will start searching the data for unusual patterns to be able to investigate or even predict potentially malicious behaviour. So, the second a user types in ‘uncommon’ queries, he/she thus would be under suspicion. And here comes the point; under such circumstances, the whole principle of “presumption of innocence” (ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat) is actually turned over. Then the authority won’t have to proof that the user has done anything wrong, but the user would be under the obligation to prove that he/she hasn’t.

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I guess, nobody is feeling comfortable about being tracked/logged. At the same time we all appreciate the benefits of this technique. So as always a compromise has to be found as stubborn search engine bashing will just blur the whole situation and allow competitors to use the confusion and find loopholes to put things into practise, big corporations are still struggling to be allowed. Example? While some 70 year old Austrian even attacked an Google Streeview car last week with a pick-axe, nobody seems to care that an Austrian company (Herold Straßentour) has already recorded most of Vienna’s inner city, using pretty much the same technique. So shall Google be punished for at least openly speaking about their plans while others ‘just do it‘?

*How To Freak Out Users: Tell Them They Are Being Watched

A friend of mine who is working in the travel industry was so kind to pointed out a nice rumour to me which highlights how suspicious users get as soon as they have the feeling that are being watched and that websites are tracking their surfing behaviour.

“Don’t book your flight on the same computer you used to search for a flight. The second time you access the airline’s website the prices will have increased as the website anticipates that you are coming back to book the flight.”

I don’t want to dig deeper into the issue (e.g. is Ryanair‘s cooking really there to make your next search more expensive) or give you advise on that stuff but I’d like to draw you attention on how emotional users get as soon as they have the feeling that they are being spied at. Thus, knowing that most users thrust Google more than their local authorities (Fallows 2005, p. 27), I wonder which measures websites and internet businesses will have to take to get out of the “creepy behavioural marketing/advertising corner” 😉

*Striking the Balance Between Advertising Revenues and User Experience on Search Engines

Displaying ads on search engines is a delicate trade off between motivating users to click onto the ads while at the same time not creating a negative user overall experience.

I’ve already posted about the general negative attitude/bias [0]users have towards advertising on search engine results pages (SERPs) and their tendency to see, but to broadly ignore AdWords due to multiple possible reasons. As users are more likely to click onto ads that appear useful and not at all distracting, search engines are trying to make Ads on their SERPs to stand out as little as possible to “ensure the best possible user experience“. [1]

Displaying ads for search engines thus appears to be a delicate trade off between motivating users to click onto the ads and thus creating advertising revenue while at the same time not giving users a (subconscious) negative overall experience (“too many, annoying, misleading or irritating ads”). A negative overall experience will not only cause the user to pay less attention to ads on the respective site, but, in the worst case it might lead the user even to use another search engine for his future searches.

To be more precise:

“users continue to click on advertisements only if the value that a user derives from clicking on an ad exceeds the cost of time required to evaluate the contents of the offer.”[2]

If the value is a large negative number due to e.g. misleading advertising the user will pay less attention to the ads in the future and thus decrease the advertising revenue of the search engine.


As search engines are aiming to provide users with an optimal user experience, it is e.g. forbidden under the editorial guidelines of AdWords to use “call-to-action“-phrases whose only purpose it is to motivate users to click on the ad. Browsing through the net I found a blog today which has found its own way of circumventing AdWord’s editoral guidelines as it has placed an (truly annoying) .GIF graphic file above the ad block that should direct users to the ads, which will create revenues for the owner of that blog.

click in the picture to activate


[0]: Hotchkiss/Garrison/Jensen, Search Engine Use in North America (2005); Greenspan, Searching for Balance (2004); Jansen/Resnick, An Examination of Searcher’s Perceptions of Nonsponsored and Sponsored Links during Ecommerce Web Searching (2006) pp. 1958.
[1]: Guo, User Experience Research an Management of Online Advertising and Merchandising (2009) p. 464.
[2]: Abrahams/Schwarz, Ad Auction Design and User Experience (2008) p. 98.

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