Will Canopy Still Protect User Privacy After CNN Purchase?

By Joanne Cleaver

If news-aggregation app Tonic protects users from unwanted commercial attention, will its users be abandoned to the mercies of the market now that its parent company, Canopy, has been acquired by CNN?

Announced Tuesday, the acquisition of Canopy’s privacy-driven platform and 15-member team is a major step toward building a new platform to address “ever-evolving user needs,” according to a CNN statement.

Canopy, founded in 2018, delivers to its users via Tonic customized news feeds curated by human decisions and artificial intelligence, framed by “differential privacy,” in the company’s terms.

WarnerMedia, corporate parent of CNN, did not respond to requests for comment from Digital Privacy News. WarnerMedia is an operating unit of AT&T. Terms were not disclosed.

But the real question with the deal is whether CNN can resist the temptation to dismantle the privacy mission, posed Yang Cheng, an assistant professor of communications at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. 

“How will they gain revenue?” she asked. “Will people have to start paying for privacy?” 

At the same time, though, adopting Canopy’s approach for at least some of its audience could be a strategic move by CNN to “put more emphasis on social responsibility” by providing consumers with a new option, Cheng told Digital Privacy News.

“If you want to protect privacy, it’s a start,” Cheng said, adding that CNN has time to figure out how to make money from an enhanced-privacy news delivery system.  

Creating a more nuanced spectrum of privacy options for delivering news to consumers appears to be aligned with recommendations made in September 2019 by the Stigler Committee on Digital Platforms, part of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The Stigler Center studies issues related to government, the economy and current events.

One recommendation was that media organizations move away from “one-size-fits-all” privacy policies and embrace “different types of data [that] may allow different openness rules for different purposes.”

The “differential privacy” options recommended by the committee mirror those of CNN’s stated goals with the purchase.

In a news release, the cable network explained that Canopy would be part of its “Emerging Products & Platforms” team that aims to “provide users with a highly personalized news and information experience by connecting them with trusted sources, storytellers and creators across a wide range of topics.”

CNN, based in Atlanta, also signaled that it intended to build on, not dilute, Canopy’s privacy platform, as “Canopy’s data-security expertise is part of what made the company so appealing to CNN.”

Joanne Cleaver is a writer based in Charlotte, N.C.

Sources (external links):

  • AdWeek (link)
  • CNN (article, link)
  • CNN (Canopy FAQ, link)
  • Digital Platforms Report (link)
  • Warner Media Group, Jason Kilar PR (link)