This is the summary of an article by Natasha Singer. It talks about how Singer performed an unscientific behavioral targeting experiment to determine where her personal data went and if the ads were in relation to the subscriptions she made for several magazines. Turns out she received ads that were totally unrelated to the products advertised in the subscriptions. Here’s the link to the original behavioral targeting article: Following the Breadcrumbs on the Data-Sharing Trail
It is difficult for U.S. consumers to find out who is dealing with their personal data online and profiling them in terms of their online activities (e.g. browsing, social media, spending). The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t have an iron grip on telling companies they need to notify users that their personal details are being used and escalated.
According to Paul Stephens, a director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, “It is revenue-producing for a publisher to collect subscribers’ information and sell it. It’s just information that is very valuable to advertisers who want to target individuals based on their interests.” In fact, direct marketing spending has reached 163 billion dollars for the year 2011.
Privacy and Online Advertising
The United States government has laid out a privacy bill, reminding companies that their consumers have the right to know their data is being collected, used and shared in the right context.
Natasha Singer of the New York Times performed an “unscientific experiment” where she conducted her own profiling to take a look at online behavioral targeting. Subscribing to six magazines, and varying her name and address for each subscription, she discovered that she received varying direct mails from The Wired, The New Yorker, Fast Company, etc.
What’s more important is that she received ads which are far from the products being sold by the companies she subscribed to. For example, she received direct mails from the World Monument Fund, and a Michelle Obama appeal campaigning for Barack this 2012.
According to Nancy J. King, a privacy law expert and associate professor at the College of Business of Oregon State University, it’s normal to receive magazine-related advertisements from the same publishing house of your magazine subscription, but you would not expect to receive political campaign information, even if this is based on the periodicals that you choose that show your preferred politics.
In the United States, any company, not only publishers, can collect customer data if it is appropriate. Your data can be obtained directly or through data brokers. This is done with the goal of achieving personalized marketing. Analytics are used to create advertisements that will interest consumers based on what they are previously showing to be interested in. If you don’t want to receive targeted offers, you can visit dmachoice.org to opt out.
However, opt out is not enough, according to Christopher Olsen, who works at the Bureau of Consumer of Protection of the Federal Trade Commission. He said that “if your name is flying around the ether because you have subscribed to a magazine, you ought to understand who has got that information and whether you have a choice about its onward distribution.”
The companies that Singer subscribed to all have something to say about how their opt out works. For example, a spokesperson for Condé Nast, The New Yorker publisher, said they are offering subscribers multiple opt out options.
A list manager for the New York Review of Books, Diane R. Seltzer, said that they audit all proposals from firms that would like to market their subscribers. An advertisement is run in every publication issue, and the subscribers are notified about how they can opt out. She mentioned that “we are very proactive in trying to keep subscribers happy.”
On the other hand, David Rothkopf, CEO of Foreign Policy, said that “I think media companies are going to have to tackle this issue.. there are people out there who don’t want to be part of some giant circulating mailing list,” perhaps indicating that the company might limit or stop selling their subscription list altogether.