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Smart adverts raise more questions on personal data

Personal data, personal privacy, freedom of thought and expression, these are all big topics at the moment thanks to the Edward Snowden leaks and the ever evolving landscape of the cloud and big data. Public opinion tends to split down the middle, with some suggesting they have nothing to hide, others arguing that's not the point – it's your data and should remain that way unless you want it. But what if it's for a good cause?

This is the question posted by new smart adverts, being trialled by Sky and several organisations, which are using the technology to only display their adverts to certain people. Deciding which people, means looking at data  held on Sky users, including: a household's estimated income, age, class and location.

One group involved in this scheme, is Freedom From Torture, a group dedicated to providing medical and emotional support for those affected by torture. It's using Sky's smart adverts scheme to decide who is more likely to donate and displaying the adverts only to them.


Many would see this as an invasion of privacy, since Sky is essentially selling their details to groups by allowing them access to select customers, but to organisations like Freedom From Torture, the cost saving involved is a godsend.

“Being able to target our appeal specifically to the people who are most likely to donate means that TV advertising is now affordable and available to us for the first time,” said chief executive at Freedom From Torture, Keith Best (via the Telegraph). “It represents a golden opportunity to increase donations to fund the important work we do.”

There's a moral and philosophical argument surrounding this sort of technology, whether it's used for good or ‘evil', but there's also a danger to linking content only with people that are likely to be interested in it: people that the system deems uninterested will never hear of it. By targeting those that are likely to react to or enjoy something, the audience is limited. That's not how you bring in new fans or supporters.

It can also harbour ignorance, as Eli Pariser warned in his 2011 TED Talk on “Filter Bubbles.”

KitGuru Says: A lot of you guys are strictly opposed to the NSA's data gathering scheme, but what about Sky's in this instance? It seems like a good cause when applied to a charity, but do the fitness gurus among you really want more of those 30-day transformation ads that are all over Facebook? Do the gamers really need to see another “click here for the best game in the world ever,” commercial?

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