Online Behavioral Profiling & Targeting of Individuals Based on their Political Interests: Privacy Safeguards Are Required for Interactive Marketing

This week an online marketing company called Resonate Networks “announced the first online ad network built for political and public affairs advertising.” According to the company, “Resonate’s ad network is powered by its proprietary Attitudinal Targeting platform that, for the first time, provides public affairs and political advertisers with the ability to identify, persuade, motivate and organize like-minded audiences online and drive them towards an actionable step—whether it is joining a campaign, contributing to a cause, or supporting an initiative.”  Resonate’s platform, they say, was “[D]eveloped by world-class research and online industry experts, Resonate’s Attitudinal Targeting platform incorporates extensive and proprietary algorithms, data modeling and analysis to map Web users’ attitudes and issue positions against their online behavior.  Attitudinal data that advertisers can leverage include…Targeting highly influential individuals with a history of taking action related to an issue of interest…”   “It’s really drilling down to people’s beliefs and where they stand on issues,” Resonate’s CEO told MediaPost.

Resonate told the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang that the company’s approach doesn’t raise any privacy concerns.  But they are wrong.  How citizens and others are tracked, analyzed, profiled and targeted based on their political views is a privacy (and consumer protection) issue.  Both Congress and the FTC need to look closely at the growing role online profiling and targeting is playing in the political and policy arena.   

Financially backed by well-known political campaigners from both parties,  Resonate also explains that it “has developed one of the most advanced engagement models available, with the ability to not just understand who is influential, but where you can find influentials who care about specific issues.”   Here are excerpts of its pitch to corporate advertisers:

“For the first time, corporate advertisers and agencies have the power to precisely pinpoint and reach web users whose attitudes and issue positions make them most receptive to certain messages and calls-to-action…Micro-Targeting Means Higher-Performance Campaigns: Resonate Networks delivers higher concentrations of your target audiences, translating into greater exposure for your campaign among the right mix of people…Message Segmentation: The success of your campaign may require reaching different audiences with different messages: A supportive audience may receive a direct response offer, while others who are unaware of your products or their benefits may receive an educational message designed to nurture their interest over time. Reduced Budget Waste:  Resonate offers the ability to reach web users that are pre-disposed to your message or product based on their attitudes or beliefs. Conversely, Resonate can help avoid those who hold opposing or conflicting beliefs.”

In addition, Resonate says that it uses “Rich Attitudinal Data:

  • Resonate targets campaigns based on layers of detail on a range of audience attitudes, including:
    • Issues and issue positions
    • Engagement/influencer status
    • Ideology
    • Media consumption
    • Religiosity
    • Partisanship
    • Vote history”

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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