Friday, May 11, 2007


Leave it to a competitor to pick up on a bit of hypocrisy at The New York Times. It is interesting when a publisher decides that it isn't OK for you to do something but it's fine for the publisher. In this case, data mining is a technology the Times sees as a weapon against citizens in government hands but perfectly acceptable in the corporate world. The Times doesn't deign to give a reason why there is a difference.

Of course, technology itself is neutral. It is what one does with it that is ethical or not. I'm sure the Times believes it will be on the side of right while one can never trust the government. Perhaps. That will be difficult to prove. I would consider it an invasion of privacy if the Times uses data mining to attempt to sell me stuff. I'm sure that is exactly what the newspaper is going to do with it.

You raise a couple of interesting points here. First, we just saw in the PC World situation where people cried out for a separation between editorial and business at a publication. In this case, it would require greater coordination between the two -- and if the business side believes in data mining, should they have spiked the story for the sake of consistency?

Second, a web site tracking what its readers are interested in seems to be considerably different from a government agency acquiring data on individuals and compiling it into a database. I'm not going to argue the merits of the latter because it has been heavily debated, and I'm not sure I have anything meaningful to add to that debate at this time.

I will, however, address the merits of the former. It seems to me that a web site publisher is invading nobody's privacy if it tracks what stories interested that user. Targeting relevant ads based on that information seems logical. In fact, if I'm going to see advertising (and let's face it, we all are because publishers need to generate revenue to survive), then I'd rather see relevant ads than irrelevant ones.

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