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Monday, December 10, 2007

Information about your online and offline activities, formerly kept separate for marketing purposes,

Company Brings Offline Data to Web Ads.

Information about your online and offline activities, formerly kept separate for marketing purposes, is starting to blend, perhaps without you even realizing it.
Marketing data provider Acxiom Corp. is bringing to the Internet the consumer profiles for which it and other data providers are known among direct-mail companies and telemarketers - who prize knowing where to find "early parents," "penny pinchers" and other types of households for credit-card promotions and other offers.

Privacy advocates are taking notice.

"It violates average users' expectations," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It's such a sea change in the way users use information online."

The popular online hangout Facebook recently learned that there's such a thing as too much targeting.

Users protested when the company launched a marketing program that lets companies target messages based on what their friends buy and do online. Facebook retreated twice - first by making sure users give consent to sharing data, then a week later by letting users turn it off completely.
So far, there hasn't been a similar outcry over Acxiom's program, although the company has refused to disclose which companies it sells ads for or are partnering with it in other ways.

Like other data brokers, Acxiom routinely mines phone books, voter lists, property records, warranty cards and other data to profile and categorize your household and about 130 million others across the country into 70 categories.

Relevance-X, the new online program Acxiom launched in October, taps those "life stage" categories to target advertising.

Now, when you give your name and address to an online retailer, survey service or other Web site partnering with Acxiom, the company will match you against its offline records - unless you specifically decline sharing.

And then it will tag your computer with a "cookie" identifying your life stage and match that with the type of site you are visiting to determine which ad to show.

Jennifer Barrett, Acxiom's global privacy officer, said Acxiom clients familiar with segmentation offline had expressed interest in applying the techniques online.

The program, she said, would help consumers cut through online clutter and get ads most likely to appeal to them.

"This allows advertisers to do a better job," Barrett said. "If you are selling children's toys, you either want to sell it to people with kids or grandchildren."

Acxiom isn't the first company to try to combine online and offline information or target ads to an individual's buying or browsing habits.

In 1999, when Internet advertising firm DoubleClick Inc. bought Abacus Direct Corp., it gained direct-mail databases that enabled it to match ads with individual buying habits, on top of its ability to display ads based on the type of Web site an Internet user is visiting.

Amid criticism, DoubleClick ultimately backed away from such razor-sharp targeting, however.

Barrett said Acxiom designed its system to account for the complaints against DoubleClick, which Google Inc. has announced its intention to buy for $3.1 billion.

"The company is trying to respond in a reasonable way," Barrett said, "without trying to amass too much data to make consumers feel uncomfortable and that they are living in a surveillance society."

Acxiom is safeguarding users' privacy several ways, she said. For one, the cookie doesn't transmit your name or address - just attributes about your interests. And "we can't ever go back and reconnect that with personally identifiable data."

Barrett also said the company doesn't create profiles based on an individual's browsing history. It targets ads only to the site the person's currently visiting.

Users worried about privacy can remove themselves from the program, she said. They can "opt out" either at Acxiom's Web site or by calling a toll-free phone number.

Photonic crystal fibre’s ability to create broad spectra of light, which will be the basis for important developments in technology

Light sheds on new fibre's potential to change technology.

Photonic crystal fibre’s ability to create broad spectra of light, which will be the basis for important developments in technology, has been explained for the first time in an article in the leading science journal Nature Photonics.
The fibre can change a pulse of light with a narrow range of wavelengths into a spectrum hundreds of times broader and ranging from visible light to the infra-red. This is called a supercontinuum.

This supercontinuum is one of the most exciting areas of applied physics today and the ability to create it easily will have a significant effect on technology.

This includes telecommunications, where optical systems hundreds of times more efficient than existing types will be created because signals can be transmitted and processed at many wavelengths simultaneously.

Supercontinua generated in photonic crystal fibres also help to create optical clocks which are so accurate that they lose or gain only a second every million years. Two physicists based in the US and Germany shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2005 for work in this area.

Despite these applications, the mechanism behind supercontinuum generation has remained unclear, which has stopped physicists from being even more precise in using it.

But researchers at the University of Bath have now discovered the reason for much of the broadening of the spectrum.

Dr Dmitry Skryabin and Dr Andrey Gorbach, of the Centre for Photonics and Photonic Materials in the Department of Physics, found that the generation of light across the entire visible spectrum was caused by an interaction between conventional pulse of lights and what are called solitons, special light waves that maintain their shape as they travel down the fibre.
The researchers found that the pulses of light sent down the fibre get struck behind the solitons as both pass down the fibre, because the solitons slow down as they move. This barrier caused by the solitons forces the light pulses to shorten their wavelength and so become bluer, just as the solitons’ wavelength lengthens, becoming redder. This dual effect creates the broadened spectrum.

“One of the most startling effects of the photonic crystal fibre is its ability to create a strong bright spectrum of visible and infra red light from a very brief pulse of light,” said Dr Skryabin.

“We have never fully understood exactly why this happens until our research showed how the pulse of light is slowed down and blocked by other activity in the fibre, forcing it to shorten its wavelength.

“Until now the creation and manipulation of the supercontinua in photonic crystal fibres have been done in an ad-hoc way without knowing exactly why different effects are observed. But now we should be able to be much more precise when using it.”

Dr Skryabin believes that the interaction between light pulses and solitons has similarities with the way gravity acts on objects.

Fastest-Growing Tech World 2007

Google, AT&T, and Apple lead the pack when it comes to generating the most profits for shareholders
Three of last year's fastest-growing tech companies are back at the top in 2007. Google (GOOG), AT&T (T), and Apple (AAPL) took the highest spots in a list that ranks companies by a combination of share performance, sales and profit growth, and return on equity, a measure of the company's ability to generate profit on behalf of its shareholders. Performance is measured in the 12 months through Nov. 15, 2007.

Google does a better job than rivals such as Yahoo (YHOO) in wringing profits from online advertising, while AT&T is reaping the benefits from a flurry of acquisitions, including the 2006 purchase of BellSouth. Apple keeps on tapping demand for its iPod digital music player and in June introduced a music-playing cell phone called the iPhone.

Four of the 10 best finishers are makers of computer chips or the materials that go into semiconductors, a reflection of ongoing robust demand for electronic devices even as the housing slump and credit crunch damped consumer sentiment in the second half.

EchoStar now called Dish Network,

One of the largest satellite TV providers is slicing itself into smaller pieces.

Formerly called EchoStar, it will be split into two businesses: the satellite broadcast service will be called Dish Network, and its fixed satellite services and set-top box business will be called EchoStar Holding Co., according to SEC filings dug up by GigaOm.

The owner of the Dish Network satellite television service wants to change its name to just that -- the Dish Network Corp.

Current chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen will retain both titles as head of both companies.

EchoStar Holding Co. (EHC) will include Sling Media, which was bought by EchoStar in October for $380 million. The Slingbox is now one of several set-top boxes that EHC could possibly sell to other cable operators or other satellite companies.

There had been rumors earlier this year of AT&T being interested in buying EchoStar, and Dish Network as its own business could be easily snapped up by the cable operator.

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