Business and political campaigns have long used big data (tracking people's online behavior) to help them target content and ads to specific audiences.

But a recent Wall Street Journal piece details how Gloo, a self-described "personal growth platform", is helping churches up their membership and attendance using the same methods. The kicker: in this case, they’re targeting people who are in need.⁠

Gloms strategy: identify people who might be having marital issues, who are experiencing depression or anxiety, who are grieving, or who are addicted to alcohol/drugs ... and target them with ads. Gloo also creates web pages that can connect people in need directly with church organizations.

According to Gloo, about 30,000 churches (around 10% of all U.S. churches) are registered for their platform.⁠

One pastor describes the effort as benevolent: churches are simply trying to find the people who need them the most. In his words, "There are many people who are in pain and isolated. If you don't come to the church, the church will come to you."

On the other hand, there are plenty of folks who feel this kind of thing is unethical; they believe churches are preying on vulnerable people. 

Which got us wondering ...

 ?  Is it unethical of a church to target people who are in need? And if a psychologist, suicide prevention center, or mental health clinic used big data to market their services to the same people … Would that be unethical?⁠

 ?  If churches *genuinely believe* they are helping vulnerable people (in other words, if their intention is indeed benevolent) … Does that intention matter? (And if they do indeed help the people they’re targeting… does that make their use of big data more ethical?)⁠

  ?  Is there a difference between businesses targeting people this way and churches doing the same? For example: if a pharmaceutical company uses big data to market an antidepressant medication to people who are depressed … Is that taking advantage of vulnerable people, or is the company simply offering a solution to people who might need one?⁠


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