15 Gen Marketers, ISPs Fight To Prevent Privacy Protection Laws
DSL Reports, By Karl Bode, January 14, 2009
Online Behavioral advertising firm NebuAd recently all but exploded, after Congress began asking whether their business model of paying ISPs to track user browsing data (to deliver more interest-tailored ads) violated privacy and wiretap laws. Once the media began asking questions about the legality of these systems, ISP partners began running to the hills, and Congress began exploring the idea of making all such systems opt in instead of opt out by law. Fearing such laws would constrict their plans (and ad revenue) — the marketing industry and ISP lobbyists — with the FTC’s help — have been working on a voluntary set of guidelines for the sharing and sale of your online browsing activities. Verizon recently argued that tough consumer protection laws governing such systems aren’t needed, because “public shame” would play a primary role in keeping ISPs and the marketing industry honest: A couple of years back during the debate on net neutrality, I made the argument that industry leadership through some form of oversight/self-regulatory model, coupled with competition and the extensive oversight provided by literally hundreds of thousands of sophisticated online users would help ensure effective enforcement of good practices and protect consumers. Verizon also argued that instead of tough laws, government could step in when needed to investigate privacy infractions on a case-by case basis. Of course ISPs have quietly been selling your browsing data without your consent for years, and haven’t been shamed into stopping — by and large because they deny they do it. Regulatory agencies also all too often fail to act because they’re frequently staffed with lobbyists from the very industries they’re supposed to be regulating. While there’s no indication voluntary measures will truly protect consumers from poor privacy practices, the proposal steams forward, and grew stronger this week. Four organizations representing the majority of the nation’s marketing, advertising and ad-delivery companies announced an alliance aimed at convincing Washington they can protect American citizen privacy better than law ever could. The American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have issued a statement saying that behavioral advertising “provides enormous benefits to consumers” while insisting it “is our responsibility as marketers to ensure the Web-surfing public’s privacy interests remain protected.” While that’s sweet, consumer advocates say this is simply about protecting a hugely profitable revenue stream. “This is a transparent attempt to head off any meaningful consumer safeguards for online advertising,” says the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester to Ad Age. Consumer advocates are heavily outgunned on this one though, meaning you’ll probably never see an opt-out law protecting your clicks.