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Stupid Media Watch: Would, Could and Privacy BS

12/9/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
One wonders what privacy advocates would do if they ever were able to demonstrate an actual case of harm as a result of data-driven marketing.
 
Not that they have to.
 
Reporters across the media spectrum have shown repeatedly they will regurgitate privacy advocates’ hollow, alarmist allegations without the slightest hint of skepticism.
 
Our latest example of ridiculously credulous reporting on privacy alarmism comes courtesy of AP’s Anne Flaherty:
 
“More than a year after federal regulators issued new privacy rules for kids' mobile apps, online stores are flooded with cute and silly software programs that quietly collect vast amounts of data on the youngest consumers, including a person's location and even recordings of their voice, according to privacy researchers and consumer advocates,” began the piece.
 
The first hint this piece is going baselessly alarmist is in the word “quietly.” That’s reporter-speak for “nefariously.” It certainly doesn’t translate into an implication that marketing data should be collected loudly.
 
“Whether they pass that information on to retailers or seek parental consent first — as required by law — isn't entirely clear,” the piece continued, indicating the reporter has no concrete information and doesn’t plan to present any. “But if you don't want your family tracked online by fast food chains, toy stores or other retailers, your choices are limited: Stick the phone in ‘airplane mode’ to shut off the wireless connection and risk losing functionality, or wade through a developer's privacy policy to make sure you're OK with how it works.”
 
Then, of course, there’s the obligatory allegation from privacy advocate Jeff Chester with no supporting evidence:
 
"Kids are such a lucrative market, especially for apps," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Unfortunately, there are still companies out there that are more concerned about generating revenue than protecting the privacy of kids."
 
No, kids are not a lucrative market for anything. They have no money. Their parents are the lucrative market. And, yes, I am a parent and understand how marketing to kids works. The counterweight is called getting a friggin’ backbone.
 
The predatory advertising allegations don’t end there. Why stop when you don’t have to back them up? 
 
“Americans have traded vast amounts of personal data in exchange for the ease and functionality of fun mobile applications on their phones. But how is industry using that information?” the piece continued. “Chester and other consumer advocates allege that fast food chains are increasingly focusing advertising dollars on digital media, targeting blacks and Hispanics. They also warn that data from phones can be combined with offline information like home prices, race or income in ways that could violate fair lending laws.”
 
The first part of the fast-food advertising claim is most certainly true. Most—if not all—business sectors are increasingly focusing their ad dollars on digital media. But the implication of the second part of the claim is that fast food is bad; therefore, fast-food-advertising is bad; therefore, the targets of fast-food advertising are victims of nefarious activity.
 
If the fast-food industry is targeting blacks and Hispanics—which it certainly may be doing—it is because blacks and Hispanics have demonstrated themselves to be responsive.
 
Then there is the doozy fair-lending claim. Newsflash: Home prices, race and income alone can be used in ways that violate fair-lending laws.
 
As is always the case in privacy coverage, the story is one long string of “would” and “could” what-if scenarios without anything concrete.
 
“For example, Fruit Ninja collects a phone's location, which could be passed on to advertisers. And Talking Tom, where kids can talk to and ‘tickle’ an alley cat using the touch screen, collects a child's audio recordings along with other information that can uniquely identify a phone,” the story said.
 
“Whether these apps would violate COPPA, would depend on a number of factors, including whether and how they seek parental consent. But because these apps collect information in surprising ways, PrivacyGrade.org gave them both D grades.”
 
So the apps data-collection practices neither must be against the law nor result in harm to get a bad grade from privacy advocates. All apps must do is operate in ways that are surprising to privacy advocates. Don’t ever throw these guys a party. 
 
The idea that data-driven marketing is harmful in and of itself is patently absurd.
 
Replace the term “data-driven marketing” with “duct tape” or “chef’s knife,” and the ridiculousness of privacy advocates’ charges are instantly apparent—with one huge difference.
 
Duct tape and chef’s knives have repeatedly been used to aid in the commission of horrific crimes. Yet, we all agree their benefits to society outweigh their criminal-use possibilities.
 
But duct tape and chef’s knives aren’t symbols of free-market capitalism—which is, of course, privacy advocates’ real target.
 
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