July 22, 2008 9:01 pm

New York Times in social network site tie-up

The personal data that users enter on social networking sites could soon be used to shape the media and advertising they see elsewhere across the internet, if a groundbreaking alliance announced on Tuesday is any guide.

The deal, between the New York Times and LinkedIn, the largest online social network for professionals, is one of most far-reaching attempts yet by a traditional media company to tap into the booming popularity of online networks to super-charge its own services.

So far, those partnerships have largely involved simple links that allow visitors to media sites to “share” content they like with other people in their social networks.

The New York Times deal, however, goes much further, allowing the company to draw on all the personal profile data that users have entered on LinkedIn, such as the profession or industry they work in, as well as their job title, age, sex and location – information that could be highly valuable for making the advertising on its own website, NYT.com, more targeted.

The alliance comes at a time of heightened regulatory interest in the US in targeted advertising, with Congress and the Federal Trade Commission turning their attention to the issue.

In an interview with a New York Times blogger this week, Lydia Barnes, the director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, called for better self-regulation of target advertising.

“If you ask people whether they want to be traced when they are online they generally say they do not,” she said. “But if you ask them whether they want a free internet they say yes. And if you ask them if they want relevant advertising, they say yes.”

The newspaper group on Tuesday chose to highlight the potential of this link for “pushing” more relevant information to its readers.

It said it would offer visitors to NYT.com a selection of business news headlines targeted at their interests, derived from the LinkedIn profiles.

However, a note contained in its online privacy policy added: “This information will also help users see advertising that is most likely to interest them.”

The companies said that they would not share any information that would make users personally identifiable, and that users could opt out of the system.

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