Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Attention Warfare

Over the last six months or so I have been evangelizing to the people I know about the Attention Economy and Attention Trust. It's a funny thing to do because the conversation sounds like this, "See in the future you will record your attention and then broker it yourself instead of going through Yahoo etc." That ends up in people rolling their eyes or giving me a strange look. I think, soon you will see...

At any rate I am still convinced that this is one of the most important things going on in technology, media and advertising. In that same conversation I tell people that I have been recording my attention since July and I have it stored somewhere for when I need it. I guess that too sounds a bit bizarre. The physical representation of that is the What I'm clicking on badge on the right hand side of the blog. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that out of the blue, the most visited site that I go to each day is If you go to that link you will see that it is a 1 pixel gif image served up by a company by the name of Atlas Solutions. Ah, marketing folks.

I found myself both concerned and annoyed that somehow some spyware had infected my laptop. I am pretty diligent in doing my virus scans and I think that Firefox has been really good at keeping my computer virus free and spyware free. I was at a total loss for how this thing had infected me and I wasn't sure when it started. I went into Firefox and blocked the domain atdmt from serving cookies. I figured that I was done and moved on.

About a week later, I looked at the badge and to my surprise atdmt was still at the top. I was pretty mad about that and had to dig in to figure out what was going on. I fired up Norton for a full scan. I did a Google Desktop search for *atdmt*. My mouth dropped to the floor. 71 emails contain links that reference the atdmt cookie. Some fine companies such as Sportsline, American Airlines and Microsoft apparently work with Atlas Solutions. I asked my internal guys about getting rid of this plague from my computer and their suggestion was to run a spyware program. I told them that I didn't care for spyware and thought that Norton should be enough. They said that in fact I should run a separate program. I asked which one and they said unanimously that I should use Windows Defender because Microsoft is taking over the spyware market. There were a number of other things that they said that is worthy of a different post that I will follow up on later.

I ran a full Norton scan, I ran a Windows defender scan and nothing came up. Very disappointing. Maybe Atlas isn't spyware, maybe its valuable marketing intelligence. I think not. I went into my root account and turned off logging for the domain. I also spent some time looking on websites for information about atdmt and one of the most interesting things that came up was that when you download IE 7 you are redirected to the Atlas Solutions domain during the download process. It was theorized that the reason was to track downloads. I am not certain that this was the source of the infection, especially given the wide availability of the tracking cookie with other companies I do business with but I was very unhappy that I had no knowledge of this.

This morning I went back to Firefox and doubled checked my prohibited domains. I was blocking but I didn't have Atlas Solutions blocked. I added them. I also went to look at my cookies and realized that I hadn't deleted the atdmt and atlassolutions cookies. I fixed that this morning and hope that for now the problem is gone.

In summary, this long narrative was an expression of what happens when you start to realize what is going on behind the scenes with your data. Certainly most people wont go through all this trouble and effort. At one point Shawn asked me if this was a good use of my time. In fact, generally I would say no but given the gradual slowdown of my computer over time it felt like an important thing to address. As more and more people become aware of their attention and the value of it, I think stories like this and what I would expect to be a backlash will become more prevalent.

No comments: