Media Diversity and Online Advertising

By Ammori, Marvin; Pelican, Luke | Albany Law Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Media Diversity and Online Advertising


Ammori, Marvin, Pelican, Luke, Albany Law Review


I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  BACKGROUND
     A. Freedom of Press, Media Diversity, and Advertising
     B. Privacy in Many Forms
III. ENTER THE INTERNET
     A. The Internet Disrupts Press, Increases Diversity
     B. The Internet Transforms Privacy
IV.  MEDIA DIVERSITY AND PRIVACY
     A. Advertising, Media, and the Internet Ecosystem
     B. Balancing Privacy and Diversity
V. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I. INTRODUCTION

In the midst of a fierce presidential election season, in October 2012, The New York Times revealed that the political campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on at least one thing. (1) Both are turning to personalized data about voters, such as "shopping histories, gambling tendencies, interest in get-rich-quick schemes, dating preferences and financial problems." (2) Campaign workers use this information in their "get out the vote" efforts running up to Election Day. (3) They are debating whether to publicly shame people into voting through social networks or to use the detailed information to "persuade" unlikely voters to do their civic duty. (4) The two major parties are buying into big data; together, they spent $13 million on "data acquisition and related services" in 2012. (5) Even though both campaigns claim to follow the highest ethical standards and industry best practices, (6) and although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Commerce Department have both emphasized the importance of "notice" to consumers and choice, (7) it remains unclear whether Americans understand know how much information the two presidential campaigns or their consultants have. (8) Headlines like Forbes's "The Obama And Romney Campaigns Know If You've Visited Porn Sites" suggest much of the public does not yet know these facts. (9) A member of Romney's campaign told The New York Times: "You don't want your analytical efforts to be obvious because voters get creeped out.... A lot of what we're doing is behind the scenes." (10)

Despite the revelations of such massive information collection of personal information, there has been little uproar--likely because of the countervailing benefits of this activity. (11) Considering the value of wide participation in a democracy and our nation's chronically low turnout rates, (12) anything increasing electoral participation seems like a good thing. In addition, for centuries, political candidates have used information about voters to craft an argument that would persuade a particular voter, from knowing their gender to knowing their union membership. (13)

Consider a second, seemingly unrelated, example. Ars Technica is an online-only publication with millions of readers across the country. (14) It specializes in technology news and informed analysis. (15) In March of 2010, the site's editors experimented with their audience by "blocking" content from readers who visited the site using ad-blocking technology. (16) The experiment worked, though it angered some of their readers. (17) Some twenty-five thousand readers responded by whitelisting the site (meaning they removed Ars Technica from the sites whose ads were blocked), while another two hundred readers paid for premium subscriptions, (18) The following day, the publication explained the "experiment gone wrong," detailing the importance of advertising to Ars Technica and others outlets like it, and asking readers to consider the real harms to online publications caused by ad blocking, such as staff layoffs and reliance on more advertising "of a truly questionable nature." (19) The experiment also surprised the editors; they didn't realize many people were blocking ads unintentionally, not understanding the harm it caused to the sites they frequent. (20) From the point of view of a publisher, blocking ads has essentially the same effect as blocking the use of information to generate more revenue from ads. (21) It is unclear whether Ars Technica runs behavioral advertising, but behavioral advertising often generates more revenue than less targeted advertising, and many sites rely on such advertising in part to sustain themselves. …

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