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'60 Minutes' Skewers Marketers Over Data Collection

March 11, 2014 By Thorin McGee

"What most of you don't know, or are just beginning to realize, is that a much greater and more immediate threat to your privacy [than NSA data collection] is coming from thousands of companies you never heard of in the name of commerce."

That's how "60 Minutes" began a supposedly unbiased report on the practices of marketing "data brokers" that aired on Sunday, March 9. The piece featured an interview with Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill, who claimed marketers keep personally identifiable "dossiers" on all individual citizens. Other contributors included Tim Sparapani, a privacy lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union; digital privacy expert Ashkan Soltani; and some salacious congressional hearing quotes from Senator Jay Rockefeller. 

Twelve minutes into the 15 minute segment, after the host of privacy advocates had listed the supposed sins of "data brokers" in a manner that would make Bill Hicks proud, we finally heard from a real "data broker." Bryan Kennedy, chairman and CEO of Epsilon, is trotted out in a segment called, "Data Broker Defends His Industry."

So when do you plan to stop beating your customers, Mr. Marketer?

The segment does say "60 Minutes" offered Experian a chance to comment, and they declined. There is no mention of whether "60 Minutes" offered the same opportunity to the Direct Marketing Association, American Catalog Mailers Association, American Marketing Association, or any of the other marketer advocacy groups who could perhaps have answered the squad of privacy advocates that dominated the segment.

"The Direct Marketing Association strongly objects to the unbalanced, heavily negative depiction of the data-driven marketing industry in tonight's episode of '60 Minutes,' " said a DMA press release minutes after the segment ran.



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