Mr. Rothenberg, head of the trade group that represents interactive marketers, is in a tizzy because privacy, consumer advocates, and some lawmakers in the U.S. and EU advocate public policies that would empower citizens and consumers to have greater control over their data. Groups such as my CDD also want online marketers to inform users about the range and intent of data collection taking place. Anyone who has studied the online ad industry and is following it should be disturbed by many of its developments and directions.
There needs to be a serious and honest debate about all this–and rules enacted to protect the public. As more people realize the dimensions of the interactive marketing system and its implications, there will be a raising protest. We expect that when the EU’s Article 29 Working Party, made up of data privacy commissioners, issues its report on behavioral targeting, it will be an informed and thoughtful discussion of what must be done. Given the henny-penny approach Mr. Rothenberg has embraced to fight off consumer protection safeguards, we assume he will ask Congress to formally break diplomatic relations with `old’ Europe!
This is a serious issue, with ramifications affecting consumer welfare in a number of areas, including information they receive about pharmaceutical products, personal finances (such as mortgages) and with our children and adolescents. As I’ve said, we recognize the vital importance of advertising for the online medium. But it must be transparent, respect privacy, and operate fairly. The global digital ecosystem must evolve, as much as possible, in the most open and democratic manner.