Tech and politics: Microsoft, Yahoo and targeted ads

When users sign up for free services from Microsoft and Yahoo, their information is being used for targeted political ads, ProPublica reports. The news probably doesn’t surprise anyone in the Internet age, and political-ad targeting has been around for a long time. But the report points to a key thing: The ability of companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo to provide this information to political campaigns is unprecedented. That’s thanks to cookies they place on Web browsers, which help track users. Those cookies allow campaigns to milk the personal information submitted by users who sign up for Hotmail, Yahoo Mail or other free services that require registration and combine them with offline voter records. Because of Microsoft and Yahoo’s broad reach, the resulting targeted ads can appear seemingly everywhere.

Microsoft and Yahoo told ProPublica that users can opt out of having their information used in this way, and the report mentions that the companies’ privacy policies do bring up the possibility of targeted advertising. Google and Facebook reportedly do not engage in similar practices.

Irony alert: Earlier this month, GMSV mentioned that Microsoft scored points with consumer advocates and the Federal Trade Commission when it announced it would include a Do Not Track default feature on the next version of its Internet Explorer browser. The advertising industry has voiced its displeasure, and Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch wrote in a blog post last week: “Although there definitely are important benefits from targeted ads, many people are not comfortable receiving them.” ProPublica says Lynch did not respond to requests for comment about its findings.



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