MSN’s Holiday Challenge: Using Sweepstakes to Collect Your Data for Uncle Bill. Not Santa

The new sweepstakes run by Microsoft’s MSN unit–Holiday Challenge [‘Win Up to $50,000]–is emblematic of one of the key ways online marketers collect your personal and related data. Hey, they say. `Wanna win some big bucks?’ Just fill out the form to play. They assume, natch, that you won’t be clued in to the data collection and branding game going on. They don’t make much of the lifeless link which takes you to its privacy “Highlights” page (you have to click again after that if you want to reach the full privacy policy pages). Once enrolled in the game, Microsoft will be able to learn about your behavior online at various MSN pages–all the while you have to endure rich media/search engine pitches for products.

Microsoft, we know, is now seeking to develop a business model for the always-on era. Selling software can no longer cut it as a steady and significant revenue source. But Microsoft should do this in a way that makes it the corporate leader fostering privacy online–as well as supporting content and culture that enriches democracy. Its new sweepstakes ploy reveals a cynical lack of both imagination and commitment to do something better.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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