AOL/Verizon Merger: (Ab)use of Your Private Data?

business_ethics_highlights_2Discussions of online privacy and the use of consumer data sometimes blur the distinction between harmful uses of consumers’ data and uses of their data that only sound harmful. In this piece, we learn that there is a reasonable fear that consumer data pooled by the merged AOL/Verizon entity is unencrypted and could be intercepted by third parties who could use it for nefarious purposes. To the extent that intercepted data can be used for harmful-to-the-consumer purposes, the lack of encryption seems a reasonable concern. However, we also learn that this pooling of data allows the combined company to serve up better-targeted ads, more in line with consumers’ interests, which are “more likely to make you buy stuff.” Leaving aside whether advertisements have the capacity to make one do anything, it seems hard to conceive of this as an (actual or potential) harm unless one thinks that engaging in commerce, and promoting engaging in commerce, is bad. Put differently, it seems hard to object to better-targeted ads, in particular, without also objecting to ads, in general. And it seems hard to object to ads, in general, unless one believes that there is something objectionable about promoting commerce. As between being served ads for products that don’t interest one and being served ads for products that do, on what reasonable grounds may one prefer the former (consistent with the premise that advertising to promote commerce is an ethically permissible activity)? >>>

LINK: Coming Soon To An AOL Ad Network Near You: All That Data Verizon Collects On Mobile Users (by Kate Cox for Consumerist)

Verizon will have all of that tracking data from your phone. It will be anonymized, for what that’s worth, and then combined with AOL’s ad network data. The combination works out in Verizon and AOL’s favor, by allowing the company to serve you more ads, in more spaces, that are theoretically better targeted to your individual interests and, therefore, more likely to make you buy stuff.

Privacy advocates have pointed out that not only is the data potentially intrusive, but also unencrypted, and easily intercepted. Karen Zacharia, chief privacy officer at Verizon, told ProPublica, “I think in some ways it’s more privacy protective” than working with third-party ad networks would be, “because it’s all within one company.”

What do you think?

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