Fresh Views at Agency Overseeing Online Ads [Telecom]

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Fresh Views at Agency Overseeing Online Ads

August 5, 2009

Most of the online world is based on a simple, if unarticulated,
agreement: consumers browse Web sites free, and in return, they give
up data - like their gender or income level - which the sites use to
aim their advertisements.

The new head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal
Trade Commission, David C. Vladeck, says it is time for that to
change. In an interview, Mr. Vladeck outlined plans that could upset
the online advertising ecosystem. Privacy policies have become
useless, the commission's standards for the cases it reviews are too
narrow, and some online tracking is "Orwellian," Mr. Vladeck said.

After eight years of what privacy advocates and the industry saw as a
relatively pro-business commission, Mr. Vladeck, has made a splash.
In June, the commission settled a case with Sears that was a warning
shot to companies that thought their privacy policies protected them.
In just over six weeks on the job, he has asked Congress for a bigger
budget and for a streamlined way to create regulations. And he said
he would hire technologists to help analyze online marketers'


***** Moderator's Note *****

As I've said before, the Internet users who participate in
social-networking sites, text-messaging sites, etc. are giving up
something that they didn't even know they had, and they're going to
regret it soon. The social maps being constructed by major marketing
research firms allow salesmen to jump over the last wall of privacy
that surrounds pre-Internet Americans: they will soon be able to get a
printout that tells them the names of your friends.

If a salesman calls me and says I need life insurance, it's a 50/50
bet whether I'll listen to his shpiel and then ask why he doesn't
respect the do-not-call list, or if I'll just push one of the
touch-tone buttons while I hang the phone up.

However, the odds are good that if he calls me and mentions the name
of one of my friends, that I'll give him that all-important sixty
seconds he needs to make his pitch and set his hook, and now, or very
soon, he'll have a long list of names to drop.

This is not new: charitable organizations have been using 'local'
fundraisers for years, involving well-meaning busybodies who call
their friends, their neighbors, and their cow-orkers to push the
worthy-cause-du-jour. The victims don't want to offend, and even if
they don't choose to participate, the charity hasn't lost anything
they were ever going to get by another means.

What is different with the Internet is the scale, and what it can
deliver as targets for the pitchmen: the victims are
tweenty-somethings(TM) who don't have enough life-experience to spot a
pirate on the horizon. These new-to-the-market lambs are, by sharing
personal information online, lining up for shearing as they prepare
for the biggest buying spree of their lives - their first house, their
first car, their first health-care choice, their first hospital stay,
their first insurance contract, their first chimney cleaning, their
first offer of eternal rest, their first swimming pool, their first
roof repair, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

That's the funny thing about privacy: we don't miss it until it's gone.

Bill Horne
Copyright (C) 2009 E.W. Horne. All rights reserved.

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