Day 2 Highlights From the AMA’s 2017 Marketing And Public Policy Conference

Zach Brooke
Academic
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Key Takeaways

​2017 Marketing And Public Policy Conference concludes with panels discussion retail racism, video games and Big Data violations

​1.    Shopping While Black

The final day of AMA’s Marketing Public Policy Conference in Washington D.C. kicked off with the same vigorous research and hotly contested topics that have been on display throughout the entire conference. The morning plenary session unfolded with a panel discussion organized around issues of race-based discrimination present in the U.S. economy. Dariely Rodriguez of Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law described existing literature and case law involving instances of discrimination through the sharing economy.

More powerful than statutes, however, was a YouTube clip Rodriguez of an Asian woman in tears after being rejected by an Airbnb host weeks after making a reservation on the app.

“One word says it all: Asian,” the host messaged. “We can’t have foreigners telling us what to do.”

It’s stories like these, as well as accompanying statistics suggesting people with black sounds names are 16% to 20% less likely to be booked, which have given rise to the hashtag #Airbnbwhileblack.

“I think there is a real liability in online marketplace business and they have to be proactive,” Rodriguez said. “These companies are worth billions, so they have the money to commit to research.”

Anne-Marie Hakstian of Salem State University continued the theme by describing a detailed experiment simulating racial element of jury verdicts in civil cases alleging discriminatory profiling.

The experiment used transcripts of a real-life trial where a black plaintiff sued a department store after being detained under the suspicion of shoplifting. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were given aliases, and a reenactment of the trial was recorded and shown to study subjects, who were broken down into different jury pools based on their race.

The results showed that white participants were equally likely to find in favor of both sides, while black participants were far more likely to find in favor of the black shopper accused of shoplifting. Of the juries that awarded compensation to the plaintiff, diverse juries awarded more than double the amount of punitive damages to the plaintiff and six times more in compensatory damages than all white juries.

2.    Video Games and Smoking

Another final day session centered around the scope and impact of the video games industry overall, with emphasis on how it can contribute or combat tobacco use. Rhonda Moore of the Center for Tobacco Products division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged there is limited data in this area, but pointed to some documented successes involving games that highlight the ascetic effects smoking can have on physical appearances, such as wrinkles and discolored teeth.

Frank Dardis of Penn State University provided an overview of the industry’s audience and reach as a marketing platform. According to him, more than 155 million Americans play video games, and 65% of all U.S. households include at least one gamer. It’s a $34 billion industry total. The average age of a gamer is 35.

The most common advertisements shown on video games are interstitial, occurring periodically throughout gameplay. Brands often pay to have their products included as part of gameplay, and, interestingly, perceptions of the brand in the game universe often influence real life attitudes toward those companies as well.

“If people don’t do well [in the game], they might not buy your car,” Dardis said.


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3.    With Big Data Comes Big Ethics

The final session of the conference focused on the evolving use of data. Kristen Walker of California State University opened by recounting a dismissive remark made last year by then-President Obama when he called the explosion of new data a “dust cloud of nonsense.”

Using that quote as a preface for urging a greater understanding of Big Data risks and applications, Walker then related a low-grade horror story about what happens data management goes wrong. A few years ago, she said, she developed a medical issue that was rare enough that her doctors asked if they could write about her for medical journals. She agreed only to later find the published study included one of her medical records with her name and date of birth unredacted.

Big Data issues are not just limited to privacy concerns. Walker told another story about a friend of hers currently going through their own medical issue. This person is connected to her providers to the degree where she receives lab work data before her doctors do. This creates high levels of anxiety as she attempts to interpret the results by herself.

All of this, Walker says, is part of a new risk around what she terms social transmitted data, or STDs. She believes more users are relying solely on faith to accept that the data they provide about themselves online will be handled properly.  

“Trust is the lubricant to exchanges of information,” she said.

Walker has developed a sharing–surrendering information matrix to address this phenomenon. The matrix clarifies the difference between surrendering versus sharing information online, leading to the proposition that current efforts to protect privacy and security, such as enhancing trust and transparency, lack legitimacy and will not be effective in the digital age. Surrendering information is a long-term societal and ethical issue for marketers and policy makers, requiring improvement(s) in verification mechanisms and increased educational efforts aimed at enhancing consumers’ attention.

Gregory Gundlach of the University of North Florida followed up Walker’s presentation with a discussion of his work at the American Antitrust Institute, which looked how antitrust issues could develop within e-commerce.

According to Gundlach, actions need not violate user privacy to qualify as antitrust issues. Rather, the denominator for all digital antitrust is “a powerful player exercising power in a way that results in harm.”

He said antitrust can occur in the form of collusion between competitors who agree to price-fixing using certain data-driven algorithms that monitor and adjust prices, and deny consumers the benefits of price competitiveness that would normal occur in the market. Fortunately, Gundlach says, this type of collusion is easier to prove than its real world counterpart as the algorithms will leave a footprint showing intent.

Other types of antitrust issues include exclusions or predating, which he defines as, “Exercise of power over data by large platforms (e.g. operating ecosystems in ways that exclude or predate rivals),” and price discrimination, defined as, “exploitation of consumers through tracking and profiling customers in ways that result in higher prices for some consumers.”


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Zach Brooke
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