60 Minutes' Credo: Talk to DC Bureaucrats, Regurgitate
By Ken Magill
60 Minutes’ hack job on Internet marketing Sunday night supposedly involved a year of background work. But CBS’s producers apparently decided only the federal government’s side of the privacy debate was worth presenting in any detail.
It was clear the segment was going to be a hit piece from Steve Kroft’s opening remarks:
“Over the past six months or so, a huge amount of attention has been paid to government snooping, and the bulk collection and storage of vast amounts of raw data in the name of national security. What most of you don't know, or are just beginning to realize, is that a much greater and more immediate threat to your privacy is coming from thousands of companies you've probably never heard of, in the name of commerce.”
Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill couldn’t have said it better. In fact, she didn’t say it better. All she had to do was pile on:
Steve Kroft: Are people putting this together and making dossiers?
Julie Brill: Absolutely.
Steve Kroft: With names attached to it? With personal identification?
Julie Brill: The dossiers are about individuals. That's the whole point of these dossiers. It is information that is individually identified to an individual or linked to an individual.
Steve Kroft: Do you think most people know this information is being collected?
Julie Brill: I think most people have no idea that it's being collected and sold and that it is personally identifiable about them, and that the information is in basically a profile of them.
Not surprisingly, 60 Minutes failed to present a shred of evidence that anyone has been harmed by profiling for marketing purposes.
The show also never explained why companies compile, buy and sell marketing profiles. Nor did CBS allow anyone to explain to viewers that marketers aren’t interested in individuals, they want access to large groups of people with similar profiles who are likely to buy their stuff.
The report never discussed the economic activity, jobs, or inexpensive consumer access to goods and services made possible by data mining. Even with the inclusion of a brief excerpt of an interview with Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy, the report effectively ignored the business side of the privacy debate altogether.
Meanwhile, Kroft came off as quite the consumer advocate. The irony of his report possibly leading to regulations resulting in higher consumer prices, choked access to goods and services and lost jobs apparently never crossed his mind.
The producers at 60 Minutes think data-driven marketing should be regulated because … well, they really don’t know for sure. They’re simply repeating talking points from Washington without a hint of skepticism.
Something evil is happening. They can’t prove it. They just know it.
“The media are taking their cue from Congress and the FTC, who are ferociously bent on regulating our industry,” wrote Direct Marketing Association CEO Linda Woolley on the trade organization’s blog. “They don’t trust that marketing data used responsibly for marketing purposes is harmless. They have tried for more than two years to find harm, and despite being unable to do so, they continue to push a policy agenda that will shut down many of the data-driven marketing practices that fuel our data-driven lifestyles. While they focus on the ‘data brokers’ their policies would impact every business in America – large and small. In the eyes of many policy makers (and 60 Minutes), we are all ‘data brokers.’”
And it’s not like the 60 Minutes crew lacked access to the people who could have—tried to, is more like it—set them straight.
The DMA reportedly made itself available for background. Epsilon’s Kennedy sat down for a long interview.
No matter. 60 Minutes had their angle going in and they were sticking to it.
After watching 60 Minutes purposely ignore one side of the Internet privacy debate, why would anyone who understands how marketing works trust CBS to deliver fair and factual reporting on any subject?