The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.
I generally get about 100 PR pitches a week. And I’m just a guy who writes a post on tech, people and marketing now and then. I’m not a journalist. I’m not even gainfully employed by anyone. I am just one step removed -- thanks to the platform MediaPost has provided me -- from “some guy” you might meet at your local coffee shop.
But still, I get 100 PR pitches a week. Desperation for coverage is the only reason I can think of for this to be so. 99.9999% of the time, they go straight to my trash basket. And the reason they do is that they’re almost never interesting. They are -- well, they’re pitches for free exposure.
Now, the average pitch, even if it isn’t interesting, should at least try to match the target’s editorial interest. It should be in the strike zone, so to speak.
Let’s do a little postmortem on one I received recently. It was titled “AI in Banking.” Fair enough. I have written a few posts on AI. Specifically, I have written a few posts on my fear of AI.
I have also written about my concerns about misuse of data. When it comes to the nexus between AI and data, I would be considered more than a little pessimistic. So, something linking AI and banking did pique my interest, but not in a good way. I opened the email.
There, in the first paragraph, I read this: “AI is changing how banks provide personalized recommendations and insights based on enriched financial data offering tailored suggestions, such as optimizing spending, suggesting suitable investment opportunities, or identifying potential financial risks.”
This, for those of you not familiar with “PR-ese,” is what we in the biz call “spin.” Kellyanne Conway once called it -- more euphemistically -- an alternative fact.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that during the Tour de France half the Peloton crashes and bicyclists get a nasty case of road rash. A PR person would spin that to say that “Hundreds of professional cyclists discover a new miracle instant exfoliation technique from the South of France.”
See? It’s not a lie, it’s just an alternative fact.
Let’s go on. The second paragraph of the pitch continued: “Bud, a company that specializes in data intelligence is working with major partners across the country (Goldman Sachs, HSBC, 1835i, etc.) to categorize and organize financial information and data so that users are empowered to make informed decisions and gain a deeper understanding of their financial situation.”
Ah -- we’re now getting closer to the actual fact. The focus is beginning to switch from the user, empowered to make better financial decisions thanks to AI, to what is actually happening: a data marketplace being built on the backs of users for sale to corporate America.
Let’s now follow the link to Bud’s website. There, in big letters on the home page, you read:
“Turn transactional data into real-time underwriting intelligence
Bud's AI platform and data visualizations help lenders evaluate risk, reduce losses and unlock hidden revenue potential.”
Bingo. This is not about users, at least, not beyond using them as grist in a data mill. This is about slipping a Trojan Horse into your smartphone in the form of an app and hoovering your personal data up to give big banks an intimate glimpse into not just your finances, but also your thinking about those finances. As you bare your monetary soul to this helpful “Bud,” you have established a direct pipeline to the very institutions that hold your future in their greedy little fingers. You’re giving an algorithm everything it needs to automatically deny you credit.
This was just one pitch that happened to catch my eye long enough to dig a little deeper. But it serves as a perfect illustration of why I don’t trust big data or AI in the hands of for-profit corporations.
And that will continue to be true -- no matter how you PR pros spin it.