The Berkman Center is well-known for its work on digital media issues.Â But it has often failed to address–in its research and public work–the negative consequences of online marketing and interactive advertising.Â Berkman is partially funded by leading online marketers–including Google and Microsoft.Â When Berkman conducts research on such issues as children’s online marketing and privacy [an issue I am involved with], it should always prominently disclose on the first publication page its funding conflicts–including whether Berkman staff work with online marketers.Â Berkman should tell Congress and the FTC about such conflicts when it submits research and testimony.
For example, Berkman’s faculty co-director John Palfrey works for a venture investing firm that financially backs behavioral targeting and other online marketing companies.Â Professor Palfrey does disclose on his blog that in addition to his Harvard duties, he is also a “Venture Executive” at Highland Capital Partners.Â Highland’s “Internet and Digital Team,” which Prof. Palfrey serves on, has one current investment in Affine Systems, a video targeting company. Affine’s Video Platform explains it enables marketers to engage in behavioral targeting:Â “Affine integrates behavioral data from exchanges and exclusive third-party partnerships. This data is used to audit and optimize campaigns as they run. Detailed analytics are collected, and valuable retargeting data is generated with every campaign.”Â [“What makes the Video Targeting Platform special is the amount of insight it provides…by taking advantage of the data provided by Affine’s data partners, you can even target specific demographic or psychographic groups, and reduce the waste that is currently expected from online video buys.”].Â Highland also invests in search engine and interactive TV companies serving the China market and many others. [Given the investments in China’s online market by Mr. Palfrey’s company, it also raises questions about Berkman’s Global Network Initiative role evaluating how companies like Google and Yahoo operating in China and elsewhere address human rights].Â Previous online marketing (and behavioral targeted related) investments made by Highland included the youth online targeting company Bolt, Coremetrics, and mobile ad targeting company Quattro.
The well-known online analyst and commentator Dana Boyd is a Fellow at Berkman, and has made it clear she also works for Microsoft Research.Â But given Microsoft Advertising global efforts to extend the power of online marketing and personalized data collection, including its online ad research lab in Beijing, its support for neuromarketing in digital ads, and its extensive behavioral and online targeting apparatus–including for junk food targeting youth in its gaming divisions, we hope Ms. Boyd will more closely examine her employers work in the area.