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Microsoft pitching targeted political ads on Xbox Live

Mar 09, 20144 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Targeted political ads may be coming soon to an Xbox Live dashboard near you.

Microsoft is currently wooing politicians, hoping to take a piece of the midterm election advertising pie. Therefore, targeted political ads may be coming soon to an Xbox Live dashboard near you. It’s not just targeted political ads on Xbox Live; The Washington Post reported that Microsoft is trying to talk politicians into taking out “targeted ads on Xbox Live, Skype, MSN and other company platforms.”

In showing examples of digital surveillance and ways a person can be tracked, CBC said an Xbox holds a person’s name, address, phone number, email, gender, birthdate, billing info, IP address, web browser version, timestamps of when the Xbox is accessed; it also keeps track of when and how often each game title is played as well as other services such as accessing Netflix.

“While ads for body spray, foodstuffs and movies are all too common on an Xbox dashboard, pitches for people running for elected office are still relatively rare in video games,” according to Kotaku. “Barack Obama’s 2008 in-game ad in Burnout Paradise as a notable watershed moment.”

Microsoft has made a big Scroogled deal of Google “reading” your email in order to serve up targeted ads. While Microsoft may not scan your emails to better serve up ads, the company taps into its users’ data to sell targeted ads. This is a common procedure across the board with businesses of all shapes, sizes and purposes. However, The Post said Microsoft is stepping up efforts and handed out promotional material last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The ads, which would appear on the Xbox Live dashboard and other Microsoft products, combine Microsoft user IDs and other public data to build a profile of Xbox users. Campaigns can then blast ads to selected demographic categories, or to specific congressional districts. And if the campaign brings its own list of voter e-mail addresses, Microsoft can match the additional data with individual customer accounts for even more accurate voter targeting.

Microsoft claims that 40% of the 25 million Xbox Live subscribers in the U.S. are married and over half have kids. 38% are women; The Post added:

Microsoft is particularly aggressive in selling its ability to reach women, Latinos and millennials; across the company’s other platforms, such as MSN, Microsoft has developed consumer categories like “Ciudad Strivers” and “Nuevo Horizons” that attempt to describe a set of characteristics including age, type of residence and income level.

Profiling and placing people in groups such as “Ciudad Strivers,” “Asian Achievers,” “Silver Sophisticates,” “Struggling Societies,” and “Soul Survivors” has backfired in the past. But that was when a real estate website, Picket Report, used racial and ethnic stereotyping to pinpoint supposedly “perfect neighborhoods,” and not for selling targeted political ads. At the time, Picket Report apologized that its website had used aggregated content created by third party vendors.

While tapping into user data to sell targeted ads is par for the course, Microsoft refused to comment on The Post’s story. It’s unknown at this time what opt-out options Xbox Live gamers may have if they really don’t want to see politicians trying to game votes with micro-targeted ads.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.