Privacy vs. Unlimited Information

Last month the “Future of Privacy Forum” had its public unveiling. Privacy advocates who are long on rhetoric and short on grasp lined up to hammer the on-line advertising industry for “violating” consumer privacy “rights” by tracking on-line behavior in order to serve ads that are more consistent with what the consumer is actually trying to find. There has been a cry for regulation at both the state and federal levels to contain advertisers who are trying to do a more effective job of serving ads that consumers might actually be interested in. This triggers several concerns.

People have to get past the notion that they have a “right” to privacy. If you want privacy, get off the grid. The whole point of being on-line is to have access to unlimited information, and the corollary to that is everyone has some level of access to you (that’s why the information is unlimited, everyone participates). If you’re moving around on-line and looking for something, what is the problem with someone trying to help? It’s hard enough to find information as it is (e.g. 52,000,000 search returns in 0.07 seconds, when I’m only looking for one thing).

Do you enjoy getting spam? Of course not. You know who likes it even less? The people who send it out. They’re looking to make money, not waste your time. Any tracking technology is designed to reduce the amount of irrelevant advertising people receive; you get less spam, the advertising companies don’t waste your time or their money, the ads you do get resonate because they’re relevant, the advertisers make more money, the economy grows, people work, etc. Forcing advertisers to guess by deleting cookies or tightening browser privacy settings takes the irrelevancy aspect of advertising and shoots it through the roof, forcing vast inefficiencies throughout the system; advertisers make less money, the economy shrinks, etc.

And a state level regulatory framework? This is arguably the worst thought through idea in the lot. More people are moving their on-line experience to a mobile paradigm, now privacy advocates want advertisers to comply with arbitrary laws driven by random consumer locations as they cross imaginary lines?

Who is to blame for this morass? The advertising industry. That’s right. If they want to make money, they need to find a way to co-opt the privacy advocates. This will imply compromise (any idea that works for everyone is based on compromise, on-line advertising is no different), but the current stance taken by the ad industry is clearly not resonating. Even if no regulatory oversight is put in place, the ambient noise is still a distraction from their core business. Bottom line? The advertising industry needs to get over themselves and get ahead of this curve, the alternative will cripple what is already a rapidly weakening business sector.

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