Digital Target Marketing to African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans: A New Report

Digital marketing, including data collection, profiling, tracking and targeting, pervades the Internet experience. One of the less-discussed areas is the targeting of individuals because of their race or ethnicity. As CDD’s new report discusses, multicultural groups are “In the Digital Bullseye,” with online advertisers and others focused on reaching African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and others. Data collected on each of us can include our financial status, health concerns, location, spending habits—and also ethnicity and race. Multicultural groups are seen as vitally important markets for advertisers, bringining in new revenues and influencing overall cultural attitudes.

But we believe there is a price—including the loss of privacy—with the incorporation of ethnicity and race in the digital marketing paradigm. The juxtaposition of sensitive information linking income, location, and race, for example, can lead to new forms of redlining or discrimination (as our report mentions, during the mortgage subprime boom, people of color were often sold harmful financial products regardless of their actual financial status). That’s why’s CDD believes that race and ethnicity should be classified as “sensitive” information by policymakers, requiring prior affirmative consent for its use. It should be part of the list of sensitive data categories, which usually includes information about one’s finances, health or collected from a child. Let a individual decide whether they want their ethnicity or race to be part of their digital profile—not a Google, Facebook or some other marketer.

We acknowledge that there is a positive side to identifying multicultural online users: it helps support a more robust and diverse digital publishing system. However, safeguards for privacy and consumer protection are also required. This is the first in a series of new reports CDD will release in 2013 on digital-consumer protection issues, including on multicultural digital target marketing.

PS: See also our latest reporting on targeting Latinos online (link is external).