Short Takes: WSJ’s Privacy Schizophrenia

There were plenty in the digital media world eagerly sharing a brief blog post from The Wall Street Journal today. In it, Julia Angwin told the world the Wall Street Journal is changing its privacy policy. The shift will allow the Wall Street Journal Digital Network to collect personally identifiable information without user consent. This is, to be fair, an aggressive move on the Journal’s part. It’s also a bit hypocritical at first glance, considering the Journal’s hard-hitting (and sometimes overly dramatic) privacy series, “What They Know.” That series is a flashpoint in the online media and marketing world. All sorts of motives have been ascribed to it, with some actually believing News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is using the series to squelch the threat online media poses to his mostly offline media empire. We even put on a panel about the subject at our Data Management Summit, “Is the WSJ to Blame for Our Infatuation with Privacy?” I got one email from an ad tech exec this morning saying he was “surprised the media pubs aren’t having a field day with this one.”

The truth of the matter is, there’s no conspiracy. The WSJ has conscientious reporters, many of whom I know personally and respect, who aren’t taking marching orders to settle scores. Some of the stories in the series have been overplayed — I’m sure the WSJ would admit that privately — but they weren’t done out of spite, that’s for sure. News organizations don’t work as many on the outside assume they do. As I wrote before, the industry has screwed up privacy and disclosure far too much for it to blame the people who have called it out. In the end, the attention called to some practices has helped. After spending years fighting regulation tooth and nail, the industry appears on a sustainable track that is centered on transparency. It’s been a messy process, but the WSJ’s spotlight on the sticky issues has probably played an important role in getting it to move to this place after years of denial and foot-dragging.

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