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Eliot Van Buskirk

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Why Shouldn't Mitt Romney Advertise on Pandora?

Posted: 08/09/2012 4:30 pm

Crystal Harris of North Carolina was enjoying to the Garth Brooks station on the free version of Pandora, when a message appeared on her iPhone asking her to support Mitt Romney's presidential bid by sharing her email address with the Romney campaign via Pandora.

She was outraged, and tweeted the screenshot along with the hashtag feared most by public relations professionals: #fail.

ProPublica broke the news on the web. Now, Harris' screenshot is going viral.

As with anything else to do with politics, people are getting enraged -- apparently because they A) don't like Romney; B) don't like the idea that his campaign can target Pandora listeners based on station (Garth Brooks fans likely skew Republican); C) hate the idea that an ad within an app can ask for their email address, or D) all of the above.

"Don't harass me on my email," Harris mysteriously told ProPublica -- we say "mysteriously" because that's not what happened here, though email spam is not uncommon for these past 15 years or so. "Don't stalk me on the apps that I use," she added more accurately. "To me, that just crossed the line."

We don't get it.

Flip on a television, and you'll see all sorts of advertisements, assuming you don't know how to use your DVR. Those are targeted based on where you live and what you're watching. Why should music apps be any different?

As for fears about being advertised to based on the music you're listening to, we don't get that either. If the average Garth Brooks fan were asked to send their email address to Barack Obama, wouldn't that feel like even more of an intrusion?

We can hear it now: "Hey, big government, get out of our lives and off of our phones!"

Harris' experience would be problematic if the Pandora app were harvesting her email address and selling it to advertisers, political or otherwise, without her permission -- except that is not what's happenned. As an unidentified Pandora spokeswoman told ProPublica, these ads are "triple opt-in" -- in that listeners have to click on the ad, then click OK before their email address gets shared. We only count that as double opt-in, but still, it's not the same as just selling user information outright.

"Pandora does not make public or share a user's registration information with third-parties without the user's explicit consent," clarified Pandora vice president of advertising Sean Duggan. "On mobile, in particular, we offer many ways for a listener to do this: tapping on a banner ad, tap-to-email, tap-to-call or even opting-in to receive emails from the advertiser."

Although the idea of presidential candidates spying on your listening habits to send you ads might seem scary, in some way, there's really nothing to be surprised about here. It is, quite literally, politics (and advertising) as usual.

While we're on the topic, this isn't the first time this presidential race has entered the music app fray. The candidates have also done battle in the realm of Spotify.

 

Follow Eliot Van Buskirk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/evolverfm

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