Ticketmaster privacy policy slammed

Ticketmaster, which holds a lock on ticket sales for many entertainment events, is in the hot seat for an online policy that doesn't let buyers opt out of receiving e-mail pitches.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
People buying tickets online through Ticketmaster may be surprised to find themselves receiving spam as an encore.

The ticket service, which holds a lock on advance ticket sales for most major entertainment events, is taking heat from consumers for a privacy policy that does not let online ticket buyers opt out of receiving e-mail pitches from an event's producers and other businesses associated with it.

That, Ticketmaster critics say, means that the company has made receiving spam part of the price of admission.

"I have only bought a single ticket from Ticketmaster, many years ago," wrote one customer on an online discussion board devoted to the privacy policy. "Since that purchase, I have received tons of 'targeted' e-mail personalized with my full name, the city, etc...For now, I do everything I can to avoid ticket purchases from Ticketmaster (and have been successful)."

The Ticketmaster privacy policy under fire states that customers may "opt out" of getting e-mail from Ticketmaster itself, but cannot refuse to share their personal information with "event partners"--defined as "the venues, promoters, artists, teams, leagues and other third parties associated with that concert, game or other event."

"We cannot offer you a separate opportunity to opt-out, or not to consent, to our sharing of your personal information with them," reads the policy. "Event Partners may use your personal information in accordance with their own privacy policies, and may consequently use your personal information to contact you and may share your personal information with others. You will need to contact those Event Partners who contact you to instruct them directly regarding your preferences for the use of your personal information by them."

Ticketmaster did not return calls. But in a statement provided to Ed Foster's Gripelog, which hosts a discussion about the policy, the company's chief privacy officer said Ticketmaster had no choice but to share the information it collected with businesses associated with the events.

Event partners "have both the desire and the need to receive information about the consumers who purchase tickets for their entertainment offerings," Tickemaster's Kerry Samovar said in a statement. "Our clients, for whom we sell tickets, use the information to help fulfill the ticket orders and may use it to contact the consumer. Please remember that we are the legal 'agent' of these parties; we are selling tickets on their behalf. They are completely separate companies, and how they use the information is based on their respective policies."

Samovar recommended that people unhappy with the privacy policy use "more traditional" ticket sales venues, such as Ticketmaster's brick-and-mortar outlets.

One spam opponent said that although she didn't like the policy, she accepted Ticketmaster's defense that it was acting on behalf of its clients.

"If you purchase the tickets directly from the team, promoter, etc., they'd have all your personal information as well," Laura Atkins, president of the SpamCon Foundation, wrote in an e-mail exchange. "Ticketmaster could act as a privacy barrier, and not pass along so much identifying information, but they're not. I suspect that the promoters, etc., don't want that. They want the information of their visitors."

Based in West Hollywood, Calif., Ticketmaster is a unit of InterActiveCorp. The company says that last year it sold 95 million tickets, worth more than $4 billion, through venues including the Web site, more than 3,500 retail outlets, and 19 call centers. Other Web sites that use Ticketmaster include Microsoft's MSN portal, despite prior legal squabbles between the two companies over links to Ticketmaster from Microsoft pages.