My still germinating collection of 2010 predictions will have to include one of this blogs repeated themes, the impending rise of regulation of digital marketing. (See my post “Regulation is Headed Toward Digital Marketing, Do Something.“)
Now that the FTC has staked out a requirement for bloggers to prevent the false appearance of independence if they’re being paid, there’s just one catch. How do you start to enforce such a rule? My prediction: a show trial with a chaser of strategic inaction.
The same article reports that the Commission is also “crafting its next move” to regulate online behavioral targeting by requiring users to “opt in.” The FTC’s northeast regional director, Leonard Gordon, explains this is because “studies show that most consumers don’t read privacy agreements.”
FTC Cynicism in the Public Interest
See the paradox? He uses consumers’ disinterest in reading agreements as the basis for requiring greater use of them. This is a cynical recommendation. Its goal isn’t providing informed “opting in”. Quite the opposite, it is to make gathering behaviorial data and customization an Internet harder to undertake. And that may be the wrong choice.
Behavioral Targeting May Be Core to the Web’s Success Model
The reality of the “free Internet” is that much of its content is paid for by advertisers who do so with no contractual assurance of return. Competition creates the need for data to optimize these ads. Better tracking and targeting is what has kept the Internet growing while other channels are losing ad dollars.
The FTC is considering making an assertion that data privacy should be the U.S. Internet’s default value, and perhaps imposing “standard labeling” for privacy statements.
I’m thrilled to see privacy being valued. I’m concerned to see the FCC and FTC asserting jurisdiction over bloggers and the Net. And I’m astounded at the lack of industry representation by the many associations that promote our industry but are apparently disinterested in governmental affairs.
Privacy is something we should all promote; but there are competing values and individual choices that make this medium successful. The digital marketing industry seems absent from these deliberations, and that absences is a risk to the success of this medium.
It’s time for our associations to speak up for the practical need for behavioral targeting and the costs of eliminating tracking by making it “opt-in.” Privacy is a value — and so is the “free internet.” I’m surprised to say this, but like any virtue, even Privacy is best in moderation.