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February 17, 2012

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I'm also not sure that microtargetting is really a good thing for the political system.

A dis-ease shared by this "you" in Youville. But what to do? Surely, corporations are people, my friend. They have inalienable rights! Infringing on them in any way is the first step down the slippery slope to tyranny. Yessirreee, indeedy do dah day.

Quite plainly, Target was concerned that their customers would freak out if they discovered just how much Target knows about them and how accurately Target can aim its marketing bazookas in their direction.

This seems bizarrely stupid. Perhaps Target didn't want a journalist involved because they believe that journalists tend to be either stupid or unethical and would make them look bad. Journalists smearing people with sensationalistic stories that distort the truth are hardly uncommon. And the number of journalists that are actually qualified to report on something involving statistics is extremely small (hint: people who can do basic math would never pay for journalism school). Or perhaps they didn't want to share a competitive advantage with the world. If you walked into my company without invitation and asked to learn more about our competitive advantages, you'd be lucky to get a nice security guard escorting you out.

I'm not sure that I'm totally ok with Republicans creating a dossier on each voter like that.

Why not? What is the actual problem here?

Who knows what that kind of information could ultimately get used for.

I do: voter registration, campaign mailings, volunteer coordination, etc. I'm not really seeing a problem here.

I would freak if I suddenly got mailings that predicted a decision that I thought I was making in private. I'm not likely to get pregnant but if some corporate pet supply suddenly started sending me stuff because they knew I had acquired a third dog...

I can't quite say why this bugs me except that it does.

As for the other: its just looks to me like the same old thing only maybe better orgainzed. Didn't Hillary Clinton have an advisor who had some theory about targetting mirco-groups of voters? I don't really approve of single issue voters but they exist and so long as that is the case politicians will target them. It would bug me a lot though if a politician sent out mailings to one group with one message and mailings to a different group with the opposite message.

Nor would it surprise me if Multiple Message Mitt did just exaclty that!

I see less problems with companies gathering info from customers that those customers provide voluntarily provided the info stays in-house. The more so since until now I seem to be so unpredictable that targeted ads are hilariously off-mark most of the time.
Where I think legitimate use ends, is where the gathering company gives others access to the same info. And I am totally not fine with the info sold or provided otherwise to political or governmental entities without a court order. And if I were a judge, I would more often than not throw out evidence gathered that way as inadmissable. As far as (US) politicians go, they very often do not give a digestive final product about the legality though. 'Caging' is illegal but it is still done in (it seems) every election and will be done as long as the worst punishment is a slap on the wrist (with a wet noodle) or the need to (temporarily) fire a fall guy. As far as I am concerned, I do not care which party does it, although I think that the two major parties use different methods and with different goals. Simplified: The Dems want to primarily fine-tune their message, so potential voters are persuaded to give them their vote. On the GOP side it is more about preventing votes going to the other side by either preventing the vote itself (if need by force) or making the other guy look even worse (I assume that in a large percentage of cases both candidates are not worthy). That is, by tendency Dems want to increase voting while GOPsters want to depress (and/or suppress) it. While I highly prefer the former (If it was up to me, murderers could legally vote 5 minutes before their execution*) and detest the latter, the means to achieve those goals should be treated the same regardless who uses them.

*please note that I oppose the death penalty, partly out of principle but primarily because of the distrust I have in its fair application in the real world.

Didn't Hillary Clinton have an advisor who had some theory about targetting mirco-groups of voters?

Yes, Mark Penn, and he was incompetent. Sliced up the population with a thousand hairline distinctions but didn't know how to count delegates.

It bothers me too, but my feeling is that younger folks, so-called 'Digital Natives', have a lot less problem with it than us. I'd like to think that my students are just not listening to my pearls of wisdom when I warn them about their digital footprint, but I have a sinking suspicion that it just doesn't bother them as much as it does me.

I should add, that is a general feeling that the Target thing of figuring out when folks are pregnant is way creepy, but hobbies or things about work wouldn't have young folks freaking out.

I was trying to buy some batteries one day and there I was, standing at the counter with some cash in hand and the clerk started askig me every question on the census form plus some: my zip code, my area code, had I bought stuff there before. At about the third question I exploded,"Do you want to sell me batteries or not? Here's the money. Give me that batteries and my change. That's all there is to this transaction."

Radio Shack. I will never go back.

I suspect that LJ is correct. People who grew up with Internet-capable devices everywhere, and posting lots and lots of personal details out there for anyone to see, are going to be more comfortable with all this. But are they correct to be so relaxed about it?

So far, you could consider the question undecided. Unless, of course, you happen to be aware that it is now routine for HR departments to do a web-search on new prospective empolyees. Got something a bit odd about you out there somewhere? Sorry, your resume doesn't even make it to the hiring manager. All you know is that you didn't get called for an interview. Qualifications for the actual job? Irrelevant, if the guy who actually knows about the job (i.e. the hiring manager) never see them.

There seem to be a lot of folks who are irate about their inability to get hired, once they are out of college. But among all the demons they accuse, they may be missing a critical one: the guy in the mirror. If you have lots of stuff out on the web, whether on Facebook or otherwise, do you know how it looks to someone in HR? Have you even thought about it? The reason that you send out hundreds of resumes, without ever getting a call-back, may be right there on the web.

You may not care, or at least think you don't care, if people in general know this stuff about you. But how about people in specific? You might want to care about what conclusions someone you never heard of (and will never meet) will draw from them. And how that person's conclusions will impact your life. For decades.

I suspect that LJ is correct.

Do you have any evidence or are you just bringing uninformed speculation to the table?

Unless, of course, you happen to be aware that it is now routine for HR departments to do a web-search on new prospective empolyees.

Cite please?

There seem to be a lot of folks who are irate about their inability to get hired, once they are out of college.

Indeed. Many of them are over 50 years old. Do you think they're unable to get jobs because of their wild internet postings in their youth? I mean, surely you're not so ignorant as to presume that joblessness is confined to youthful folk, are you?

But among all the demons they accuse, they may be missing a critical one: the guy in the mirror.

I think the problem here is actually very clear: economic growth has crashed and as a result, there are not enough jobs. This has nothing to do with young people carelessly posting stuff on the internet. It really really doesn't.

Well, Turb, at the risk of getting personal, let me submit a little first-hand experience. (Otherwise known as "anecdotal evidence", but there you are.)

When we are considering hiring someone, what are the first three things I do?
1) Check with other people I know in the business, to see if they know him and his rep.
2) Check LinkedIn, to see what his history is. And who else he is connected to, that I might want to check with. (See previous step.)
3) Google, to see what information on him is out there. (FYI, Facebook tends to pop up in the top 5 for an awful lot of people. And even though it is often irrelevant, I will check it out.)

It's a small enough business that I am generally both HR and hiring manager. But if you think I am not going to get as much information on a prospect as I quickly can, I can only ask if you have ever been a hiring manager. And from chatting with others in similar positions, I am far from alone. To do anything less is a failure of due diligence; I would be remiss if I didn't check.

Is part of the unemployment problem the bad economy? Absolutely. But within that, some people are getting hired all the time. And the question is: which of those available will get hired?

I'm super curious wj: what specific information have you learned from prospective employees FaceBook pages that caused you to refuse to hire them? Even better, after you hire them, why do you stop checking them out? There might be valuable information there that could be used come review time!

According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com, 45 percent of employers questioned are using social networks to screen job candidates — more than double from a year earlier, when a similar survey found that just 22 percent of supervisors were researching potential hires on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The study, which questioned 2,667 managers and human resource workers, found that 35 percent of employers decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered on a social networking site. (The survey has no margin of sampling error because it was not drawn from a representative nationwide sample but rather from volunteer participants.)

The report showed that Facebook was the most popular online destination for employers to do their online sleuthing, followed by LinkedIn and MySpace. In addition, 7 percent followed job candidates on Twitter.

More than half of the employers who participated in the survey said that provocative photos were the biggest factor contributing to a decision not to hire a potential employee, while 44 percent of employers pinpointed references to drinking and drug use as red flags.

Other warning signs included bad-mouthing of previous employers and colleagues and poor online communication skills.

That's from 2009. Speaking solely from my own interactions with people in PR and marketing, the numbers are higher now.

But are they correct to be so relaxed about it?

I'm not sure if that is the right question. Isn't it if everyone is ok with it, it's going to happen, whether we like it or not?

A related story was this. The summary of the piece is:

Don’t post your Facebook photos so that the public can see them. If you do, they may just end up somewhere on the Internet that you’re not so fond of being a part of, like a porn website.

I really don't see how that horse hasn't left the barn. I see the facebook pages of my relatives and my students and I can't imagine telling them to lock down their photos without sounding like Grampa Simpson.

In a couple of cases, why, not just that, they had departed previous employers. (The way the IT business has been, someone can have "consultant" on their resume for entirely legitimate reasons. But also because it avoids having to explain why you aren't giving someone as a reference.) It's been, in these cases, something that I would have learned the hard way once they were employed; but it would be more painful.

I don't take as harsh a view of non-work-related activities as some. But then, I'm far more of a line manager than an HR type -- what I mostly care about is "will he work with us to get the job done?"

But in my experience, HR departments take it as an artilce of faith that a hiring manager should not be burdened with more than a half dozen resumes for any particular position. So, since HR has no clue about what would make someone actually qualified, they have to triage the applications that come in on other grounds. The traditional approach was "keywords" -- and if you made the mistake of describing what you had done in other words which meant the same thing really, you were out of luck. But now, they have a whole additional opportunity to find reasons why application A gets passed along while application B does not.

As for why don't I keep checking after hiring? I've got an actual job which takes too much time. (Besides, I've got blogs to comment on!) And once they are in, I can see first hand what they are like and what they can do.

This Telegraph piece is related.

Right now, companies are also well within their legal rights to sack a staff member over something they said referencing their job on their Facebook page (even if their privacy settings mean the world wide web cannot see their updates).

So this rules out friending your co-workers, I guess.

I remember debating this sort of Target customer data collection issue in law school more than 10 years ago in relation to Safeway. My position then was, and I don't think I've changed it since, that if you're out buying things from Safeway, a public place, you really don't have standing to complain about private individuals, and in particular Safeway from whom you've bought all these products, keeping track of what you're buying over time (gov't is a different matter, I would argue).

I can see information asymmetry problems here in that, for example, you didn't know that the same parent company owned all of Safeway, Best Buy, and Target, and was data mining across institutions, and I can also see more justified objections to things like Target buying Best Buy's data and then mining it. Or sharing your bacon purchasing habits with your health insurance company.

However, that said, OTOH you generally get nothing from private business for free. If you're worried about this sort of thing, pay for everything in cash, or don't sign up for the "rewards card," or use different credit cards over time at the same store, etc.

"If you're worried about this sort of thing, pay for everything in cash, or don't sign up for the "rewards card," or use different credit cards over time at the same store, etc."

I'm ok with the advice not to use somebody's rewards card, but I'm not as excited about them tracking all your purchases via credit card with your name on it.

The political one also strikes me as potentially creepy, especially as (at least as far as I'm concerned) support for a particular candidate at time point X doesn't mean that I like a completely different candidate at time point X+5.

Other warning signs included bad-mouthing of previous employers and colleagues and poor online communication skills.

What about dissing Hootie and the Blowfish?

if you're out buying things from Safeway, a public place, you really don't have standing to complain about private individuals, and in particular Safeway from whom you've bought all these products, keeping track of what you're buying over time

Fair enough.

But Safeway, or anybody else, selling your stuff to any and everyone else is a different story.

As is Safeway, or anyone else, proactively searching any and every possible repository of digital information for whatever they can find out about you, without your knowledge or permission.

I'd like to see folks able to have some level of ownership and control over information about them. At least, control over who that information is distributed to, and for what purposes.

My two cents.

Some online shops are polite enough to ask, whether they can use the info you provide them for their own advertising (to you) or provide it to third parties (not in the political sense) some even with 'no' as the default position.
I do not know, whether that is a legal obligation in some regions but I appreciate it.

I'm a young 30-something who just went back on the job market and had to get a new job.

Yeah, I don't friend coworkers. This has led to some minor drama.

Yeah, my facebook and photos are locked down, despite the only FB photos up are ones where I'm doing things that I wouldn't explaining to a coworker or boss (i.e., fire spinning, LARPing, social gatherings).

Yeah, when I interview someone, I run a quick search on their name looking for "unreliability" items. I expect them to do the same for me, which is why I manage what you can find with my bio information fairly closely.

I also research the folks interviewing me whenever possible. Sometimes it isn't, but when I can, I at least like to figure out the feel of the person who will be interviewing me.

And I believe as folks of my generation get older, mores and expectations will change. Cause everyone will have the wild party photos from their early 20-something days.

For example, friends of mine have gotten hired with pictures of them wearing a tuxedo top with lingerie bottoms on (it was a really good party) - it depends on the field. Working for a young company where the average age is closer to 20 then 40; yeah, not a problem; gov't consulting where it is closer to 40 then 20 - you'll have issues.

The story in Slate is about the Obama campaign's development of a program called Narwhal, not Romney and "Orca". How could you get this so fundamentally wrong? It doesn't negate your concerns about privacy, but it makes me wonder about your credibility in general.

Sorry, I just read the last couple paragraphs. My bad.

Even if you trust Obama, there is bound to be a Democrat at some point who isn't worthy of your trust.

I'm really curious: what policy response do you propose Seb? Are you willing to endorse a European-style Data Protection Act that would give people a legal right to protect information about them? Because that's a mighty big step that may not even pass constitutional muster. If not, what? Do you want to make it illegal to perform statistics without a license? Because there's lots of information in the world and lots of people who know how to manipulate it to uncover patterns.

So what exactly do you propose?

This is what I find most frustrating about conservative writers. There is no there there when it comes to serious policy analysis; there's just feelings. You wrote a whole post about how unsettled you are, how conflicted your feelings are, but you never bothered to address a serious policy issue or even explain your feelings.

Because that's a mighty big step that may not even pass constitutional muster.

Turb, can you lay out what you understand the constitutional problems to be?

Not saying they aren't there, just looking for what you're referring to here.

Well, let's say we created a private right of action surrounding personal information. In other words, we declare that personal information about me has value to me, and thus can't be collected or stored or sold without my consent. Just like you couldn't collect or sell or copy a song that I wrote without securing my permission, you couldn't collect information about me. Just like copyright, that legal regime runs smack into the first amendment. If I can stop you from selling information about me, I can stop you from engaging in commercial speech. Now, copyright doesn't have this problem because it is explicitly authorized in the constitution, but a Data Protection Act...well, let's just say I doubt Seb of all people could locate it even in a penumbra.

That doesn't mean that a DPA is absolutely unconstitutional; I'm not a legal scholar. But there are reasons that lots of European nations have DPA-style laws and we don't.

I should say, while I like the idea of a DPA, I don't think it would make one lick of difference in practice. The truth is that people are willing to sell their privacy rights for very very little, especially when we're talking about faceless computers processing your personal information rather human beings combing through it. At the end of day, most people will give up a heck of a lot of privacy to secure a 30% discount on yogurt in the supermarket.

"If I can stop you from selling information about me, I can stop you from engaging in commercial speech."

Commercial speech doesn't have nearly the same protections as non-commercial speech.

As for 30% off yogurt, I'm fine with people choosing to be part of these things if they want.

"This is what I find most frustrating about conservative writers. There is no there there when it comes to serious policy analysis"

Zoinks? I feel that this is a rather broad brush unless you meant to omit 'conservative writers' and just say 'writers'. If I had a dollar for every liberal writer who seemed to think that identifying a problem as 'market failure' or 'corporate greed' was enough analysis for whatever they wanted, I wouldn't be relying very much on my rice cooker.

And maybe I don't count as a conservative writer, but I think I tend to be rather explicit in my policy ideas on a fairly regular basis. This is a rather new issue, however, and I thought raising it as an issue rather than pontificating might be more useful.

But the outlines of my initial reaction to the policy prescription would be something like: personally identifiable data tracking should be non-tradeable for commercial purposes (and maybe other purposes) without permission of the person in question and perhaps on a step by step basis.

Actually it is more of the germ of an ethos I think. I'm willing to be talked in or out of it.

Commercial speech doesn't have nearly the same protections as non-commercial speech.

Alas, constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh disagrees: information privacy rules are not easily defensible under existing free speech law. It is funny that the same person who vigorously defends Citizens United while at the same time savaging Roe is so eager to sweep aside the first amendment.

As for 30% off yogurt, I'm fine with people choosing to be part of these things if they want.

I don't think you've thought through this issue. When 90% of shoppers contractually agree to sell their information rights to the supermarket, how do the remaining 10% secure their privacy rights? Do they have to sue the supermarket to ensure that their credit card numbers aren't being used to link together their purchase histories?


And maybe I don't count as a conservative writer, but I think I tend to be rather explicit in my policy ideas on a fairly regular basis.

You weren't in this post, now where you? All you wrote about was your feelings, your unease, your vague concern.

By the way, would you mind answering the questions I raised in my 9:19 comment?


This is a rather new issue, however, and I thought raising it as an issue rather than pontificating might be more useful.

This is the sort of notion that only makes sense if you are completely ignorant of an issue. Various European nations debated this issue to death almost two decades ago. It is hardly new. Note the date of the Volokh article I linked to above.

This kind of stuff totally creeps me out. I agree with LJ that the horse is way out of the barn at this point. I just want to buy a frappin sandwich, not build a relationship with every transaction I make.

This is the sort of notion that only makes sense if you are completely ignorant of an issue.

This is a statement that only makes sense if you are completely ignorant of how discussion works.

When you create a paper trail, it belongs to somebody else.

If you bind up the paper and publish it, the paper's yours, your heirs, your assigns, and eventually the Disney Corp's for all eternity.

I've started saving all my receipts.

Various European nations debated this issue to death almost two decades ago.

The currently consolidated version of the Data Protection Directive of the Electronic Communications is available here and the more general Data Protection Directive is here. This is not just based on national debate in several member countries: this is European-wide statute law.

And the question Turbulence raises is a very correct one: in light of current US constitutional jurisprudence, free speech trumps about any other concern on heaven and earth. This is an acceptable point of view, but it is not the only way to balance different basic rights.

Data protection, meaning that the examples of commercial datamining given by Sebastian should be severely regulated or even banned, is extremely important. For example, the people behind the Orca project would be risking jail time in European countries. Unauthorised handling of data on general popuulace's political opinions is extremely illegal in Europe. The same goes for target: being pregnant is a medical condition, and the handling of medical data is also similarly curtailed. Why we do this? Because we do not trust the government and corporations, and want that individuals have some say over how their personal information is being handled.

From US originalist standpoint, it is also difficult to see how the "right to petition the government for redress of grievances" relates to the right to sell a database concerning the behavioural information of countless people for commercial gain to another commercial actor. That result comes only if a long chain of constitutional court-made law is taken into account, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas of the original drafters of the 1st amendment.

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