March 12, 2015

Digital Advertising and the Apple Watch

By: Daniel Lin

This blog post discusses how the material for our March 12, 2015 class, appertaining to models of digital advertising, might be pertinent with regards to the potential widespread public adaptation of increasingly personalized tech items such as the upcoming Apple Watch. (Link to relevant article:

Apple has established a reputation for (and fortune by) making complicated technology simple to use for the “regular” consumer. In her article “If Apple Watch Isn’t a Watch, What Is It?” Adrienne LaFrance subscribes to the notion that Apple Watch as “the most personal product [Apple has] ever made” in part because of its tracking capabilities (right down to the number of “times your heart beats in a day”!). LaFrance posits that the Watch will be a “device that saves you the trouble of pulling out your phone” (the logic being that user will customize on their Watch what phone notifications are most important to her/him, such that they will only go to their phone if the notification meets such idiosyncratic, personalized criteria). The ultimate postulation of LaFrance’s article is that the Watch will be greatly revelatory as to the user’s most unique and intimate preferences. How will users be affected by the increasingly personalized third party applications that will crop up in response to the Watch’s greater user personalization abilities? Without question, third party application creators, subscribing to the behavioral advertising model, must be salivating at such a notion.

Professor Strandburg, in her article “Free Fall: The Online Market’s Consumer Preference Disconnect,” outlines three “broadcast advertising business models,” which include: (1) the broadcast advertising model [generic advertisements, geared towards the broadest swath of the consuming public possible]; (2) the online contextual advertising business model [more specialized advertising, which assumes a relation between site visit and interest], and (3) the behavioral advertising business model [the most specialized form of advertising, which also entails the most data collection].

As articulated in Professor Strandburg’s article, an adverse consequence to the consumer of the behavioral advertising model is a sort of information dissonance, in that the user will not be able to accurately anticipate the effects of his interaction with a digital output, and thus adapt her/his behavior according to a manner that best reflects his consuming and personal preferences. If it is a valid assumption that few users first read a software application’s privacy strictures before interacting with it, then the fact that Apple products rely so heavily on third party application creators (a major selling point of Apple products over Android and other products is the Apple’s extensive application ecosystem) the behavioral advertising problem, as described by Professor Strandburg, is exacerbated (the logic being a glut of third party applications means a glut of independent privacy outlines, which is more off-putting to a user focused on convenience and efficiency).

In practical terms, the user faces the daily (or however often he interacts with an application) “one-or-the-other” decision of whether to make use of the convenience of an app (the reason why you purchased an Apple product in the first place!), or whether to take hours and read the each application’s publicly proffered privacy programs (and thus lose the benefit/purpose for which you purchased the Apple product). One can easily grasp the ramifications of this mindset transposed from an app ecosystem primarily offering contextual advertising (as currently appears to be the case) into one portended by the increased personalization offered by the Apple Watch, wherein behavioral advertising appears imminent, if the third party should so choose to offer this information to support their “free” applications.

Perhaps the user’s interaction with his Watch will be no more personal than his interaction with his iPhone. But if indeed LaFrance’s position is accurate, that use of the Watch and the iPhone will not only be coterminous (one cannot use the Watch without the iPhone), but also complementary, and users do end up using the Watch as means of personalizing their iPhone and broader digital experience even further, then the privacy implications are great, because then advertisers will have before them not just data regarding the user’s personal information and personal activity, but data regarding the user’s attitudes towards this information and activity (a second piece to the puzzle for advertisers, as alluded to in Professor Strandburg’s article)!