Journalism in the Public Interest

Pandora Asks Listeners to Share Their Emails With Romney

The request comes via a campaign ad on the popular music site.

North Carolina resident Crystal Harris was listening to Garth Brooks' "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" when an ad appeared on her iPhone screen, followed by a pop-up message.

"To help Mitt Romney become the next president, Romney for President, Inc would like to use your email address — tap OK to let Pandora share this info," the message read.

Harris took a screenshot of the request and tweeted it with a one-word comment: #fail.

"Don't harass me on my email. Don't stalk me on the apps that I use. To me, that just crossed the line," Harris said in an interview with ProPublica.

Pandora's targeted email sharing pitch isn't new, but it's being offered to political advertisers for the first time this year, a company spokeswoman said. Both Democrats and Republicans, and both local and national campaigns, have used the service to collect voter emails.

It's among the latest in a series of increasingly sophisticated tactics that campaigns are using to target narrow groups of voters online — from sending ads to Internet users who have visited a candidate's website, to creating a mobile app for campaign volunteers that marks the names and addresses of nearby voters on a Google map.

In the case of the Pandora ad, it's not clear why the Romney pop-up appeared on Harris' screen — whether she was targeted, because, for instance, she lives in a swing state, or because she was listening to Garth Brooks.

Pandora, which would not comment on any client's particular strategy, offers both these kinds of targeting: campaigns can send ads to particular listeners based on their favorite artist or type of music, as well as by their age, gender and state, county or congressional district.

Pandora said the email sharing feature simply gives listeners what they want. "Sometimes, a listener wants to learn more about a product that's being advertised on Pandora, whether it's a car, a movie, or a political candidate," said Sean Duggan, Pandora's vice president of advertising, in an emailed statement. "On mobile, in particular, we offer many ways for a listener to do this: tapping on a banner ad, tap-to-email, tap-to-call or even opting-in to receive emails from the advertiser."

"Pandora does not make public or share a user's registration information with third-parties without the user's explicit consent," Duggan said.

A Pandora spokeswoman added that the email sharing was "triple opt-in," since users have to click on the ad, then click OK, before Pandora shares their emails with a campaign or other advertiser.

Users who get emails from a campaign or advertiser always have the option to unsubscribe, the spokeswoman said.

The Romney campaign did not return a request for comment on the ad.

There is evidence that the Romney campaign pays attention to the musical taste of potential supporters. Earlier this year, the campaign told The New York Times that their online targeting research had revealed that people who like jazz were less likely to respond to their online ads.

Harris, who said she's a registered Democrat, was listening to Pandora on an afternoon run when she received several Romney ads in a row — as well as a Pandora ad for the Obama campaign. Pandora said it was extremely rare for users to receive the same ad multiple times in a short period.

Harris said she loves Pandora but that political ads may convince her to upgrade to an ad-free version of the service.

Interested to learn more about how political groups are using your personal information? See our reporting on Obama's mobile app, tailored campaign emails and the new wave of targeted online ads.

Let us know if you've seen a targeted political ad on Pandora. Email us or send a screenshot to

Based on her view that political ads may force her to upgrade to an ad free version, Pandora would be better off running more ads, causing more people to want to rid themselves of the ads, but not the app, leading to more premium subscribers.  So they take in more advertising dollars, and then more subscription dollars.  Sounds like while these ads may not swing anyone into the Romney camp, they will certainly be a win for Pandora.

“Harris said she loves Pandora but that political ads may convince her to upgrade to an ad-free version of the service.”

Colin is absolutely right.  It’s a dangerous situation and only encourages abuse.

And if you think about it, how far away is the line where Pandora just sells their database to someone for a high enough price?

But more importantly, the people who can’t opt out are the poor, meaning that anybody who supports this is condemning them a life of propaganda.  So, “I’m going to punish Romney and Pandora by giving Pandora money” might not be your smartest move.

Also, given how loudly people are decrying Obama’s (disgusting, in my opinion, if accurate) plea for African-Americans to vote for him in some sort of weird solidarity, I wonder how many Romney supporters will take a stand over being profiled based on the equally-superficial qualities of what part of the country you live in and what kind of music you listen to…

As I’ve said before, the only way to stop this isn’t to block it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but to not vote for any candidate who participates in this.  There are a bunch of “third” parties.  Get to know them and vote for someone who is NOT looking at ways to subvert the country’s democratic process.

Did she tap to make the pop-up pop up?

This article is unclear on that important point.

1. ‘A Pandora spokeswoman added that the email sharing was “triple opt-in,” since users have to click on the ad, then click OK, before Pandora shares their emails with a campaign or other advertiser.’

2. ‘when an ad appeared on her iPhone screen, followed by a pop-up message.’

The phrase “followed by” leaves ambiguity to Harris’ actions.  If she tapped on the ad, she has little grounds for complaint.  If she did not tap on the ad, then the Pandora spokeswoman is misrepresenting their policies, which is interesting and should be highlighted.

I would not pay to upgrade to the ad-free version, I would stop using Pandora altogether. There are many other options when it comes to music…

one word. Spotify.


Aug. 8, 2012, 11:24 a.m.

Please folks this is nothing but a distraction for the big prize, Don’t waste time!

This article makes it look like it’s a negative reflection on the Romney campaign to use this type of media in their campaign, like they are doing something untoward or unethical almost.  Acknowledging that the president’s using it too seems like an afterthought and irrelevant to their storyline.  All campaigns are using all the technologies at their disposal and why shouldn’t they.  With a triple opt-in, I don’t think this gal has a leg to stand on.  And, I don’t think this is news, but is it an example of media bias to place a negative focus on Romney?

Please. Exactly nothing interesting is happening here. Swing state. Garth Brooks. Bingo. Sophisticated targeting? Zip code and a musical preference that correlate with a potential GOP voter. Direct mail has been doing this since forever. Despite industry hype, digital advertising is not half as smart as it thinks it is. Algorithms are good at aggregates and banner ads are lousy at persuasion. I submit Crystal Harris as evidence. If these campaigns are so “sophisticated”, why are they targeting the converted? All that is happening is that the candidates have discovered Google advertising is really cheap and that the interns can run ad campaigns from their laptops. Get background from some hands on digital marketers, not the campaigns or the media where they appear.

*This is an edited Paste from Facebook:

I’m probably dropping at least an internet site every day.  Nobody is going to sell (or gather) information about me without paying me for it.  If something gets through my firewalls, I will send an invoice.  It is possible that I can get my internet connection paid for by the very people who are currently selling information about me that they do not own.  $$$$$$$$

Another instance of Stupid End User being alarmed and frightened because they don’t understand anything about how software works.  This time with Anti-Romney politics!

Headline is misleading.  Pandora is not asking listeners to “share their emails with Romney.”  It’s asking to use the listener’s email ADDRESS.

Big difference.

Carolyn, the reason they shouldn’t is that they’re campaigning to lead a democratic-republic, not a military regime.

Targetting means that you may not be seeing the same commercial as your neighbor or anybody else.  When you’re lied to, if nobody else sees the same advertisement, you might overlook the logical problems or lack credibility when you explain it.

The country needs more transparency, not leaders looking for more sneaky ways around transparency.  If their message is important, put it where everybody can see it and debate it, rather than whispering it to people who might not realize what they’re seeing.

And if they can’t be open about their campaigns, what are their administrations going to look like?  How has Obama been in his quest for transparency, for example?

And if we don’t scream about these “incursions,” what will they try in 2016?

Remember the Wizard of Oz books.  The group is required to stand before the wizard individually, rather than as a group.  Dorothy sees the wizard as a giant, disembodied head.  The Scarecrow sees a woman.  The Tin Man sees a monstrous animal.  The Lion sees a ball of fire.  You CAN fool all of the people all of the time, as long as all of the people can be kept from comparing notes.

Thomas Anderson

Aug. 9, 2012, 4:29 p.m.

Keep politics out of my music.  Never liked Pandora anyway, now I will boycott them for life.
I’m happy with Spotify.  No politics, no BS, just music.

I’m canceling my Pandora.

Pandora cancelled. Bada Bing.

$36 = $3 per month to enjoy the service you supposedly “love”.

ProPublica is funded in part by George Soros.  So much for their credibility.  That is why the article had an anti-Romney slant and buried the fact that both parties do this further into the article.

Stephen Siegel

Aug. 12, 2012, 11:15 a.m.

If you listen to Pandora often, you should support them. $3/mo? That’s nothing!

So the user clicks on Pandora’s in-app advertisement and makes a fuss about there being an advertisement?

The picture very clearly shows “SIGN UP NOW Paid for by Romney for President”.

If you don’t want targeted advertising on Pandora, buy the annual subscription.  The higher audio quality alone makes it worth it.

It might not be so bad if they had a button for “No, F-you” in addition to “No, Thanks”.

Another whiner wanting something for free.  Go figure.  Pay for the upgrade or quite complaining.  I see there isn’t much of an outcry that Obama’s campaign uses the same tactic.  Grow up and take responsibility for your self and your listening habits, for crying out loud!

So let me see if I get this straight.  This person is complaining about “stalking her on an app she uses?”  One thing left out, uses for free!  The reason she CAN use it for free is because people pay for the ads.  Doesn’t matter who pays for it, they pay for her to use it for free.  So they can “stalk you” on your apps all they want.  Don’t like it?  Pay for the ad free version!

I’ve received commercials and advertisements on my platform that I neither expected nor wanted so the same thing may have happened to her too.

In using Pandora the adds are huge and the “x” to close them is almost nonexistent. Any slip of the finger and this can happen and since she was running i can see that since i have the same issue sitting at my desk. I hate the adds and would love to not have them but im not going to buy the add free version from them when i can get better versions without adds or fewer adds…..

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