Apple users unlikely to share their personal data with publishers, observers say


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Apple Inc., in building a system that allows users to subscribe to newspapers, magazines and other kinds of recurring media, has added a pop-up box that lets readers decide if they want to share their personal data with publishers.

The option is important to the publishing industry, which relies on data about its subscribers to lure advertisers and the marketing dollars they bring with them. Before Apple added the subscription mechanism to its iTunes system, the company shared no user data with publishers -- a situation that drew complaints from the media industry.


The box Apple has added, pictured above during the sign-up process for the Daily online news and entertainment outlet, gives users the option to share data -- or not -- before the subscription begins. This is known as an opt-in choice, as opposed to the generally more business-friendly opt-out, where users are automatically enrolled in services and must actively choose to leave to prevent their information from being shared.

Apple’s decision to allow users to offer their information to marketers is in one sense a concession -- publishers will now be able to get some subscriber information instead of none. But observers say it is unlikely to appease the publishing industry for a simple reason: Many users may see no advantage in sharing their personal data with marketers.

‘Probably most people will choose to ... not divulge their names,’ said Porter Bibb, a consultant at Mediatech Capital Partners and the first publisher of Rolling Stone magazine. ‘One of the jobs I had some time ago was corporate development director at the New York Times Co., so I can tell you with authority that as soon as you subscribe to a magazine or newspaper, the next week you’re getting special offers they got off of your credit card.’

The specter of that kind of marketing activity may turn users off to the idea of sharing personal data, the analysts said, even if consumers don’t realize their data could help those publications prosper.

‘Consumers don’t think about that fact that the reason they get free content and free advertising is because publishers know a lot about them,’ said Sarah Rotman-Epps, a digital publishing analyst at Forrester Research. ‘If you make consumers focus on that fact fewer of them will opt-in to sharing their data with publishers.

Where consumers are willing to share their information depends on whether they feel there’s an upside for them, Rotman-Epps said.


‘From a consumer standpoint, what Apple is communicating to them is the potential risk and downside of sharing data with publishers, and they’re not communicating the benefit. For consumers, it’s not a benefit that publishers are going to market to you -- it’s more subtle and harder to understand than a pop-up box.’

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the issue.

-- David Sarno


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