PBS will revise website to provide more Ad disclosure. But more needed

Communications Daily [Aug. 29, 2006. subscription required] reports that PBS plans to “revise its website as early as today (Tues.) to explain “sponsored links.” The Daily quotes PBS VP Lea Sloan saying that “we agree there could be more precision in describing what happens to users when they leave the PBS site and are looking into how best to articulate that.”

In a letter I wrote last week to the PBS ombudsman Michael Getler on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy, we asked for an investigation into how users of the site are having data collected about them from third parties (including the placement of cookies). The letter said that such undisclosed data-collection via the PBS site was a ‘deceptive” practice. We have not yet heard from Mr. Getler.

But while we are gratified that PBS is listening (after a series of stories in newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and complaints from advocates), we are not satisfied. PBS should not be engaged in any interactive advertising—on its website, via its digital broadcast airwaves, or by any method (such as wireless). PBS must not be allowed to become an digital ad-addicted junkie. It should offer the public a totally commercial-free environment as it enters the broadband communications era. We hope that Congress will consider legislation restricting PBS, NPR and other federally supported public broadcasting entities from running any ads at all—including interactive outlets.

We believe that PBS’s future more fruitfully lies in building up a site that users will financially support–grateful that it will be one of the few places on the planet where they aren’t the target of personalized interactive marketing.

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2 thoughts on “PBS will revise website to provide more Ad disclosure. But more needed”

  1. Two issues here:
    1- PBS funding itself with ads
    2- An alleged deception in regards to origin of links and what happens to people once they click one.

    As to the first issue, I see it as a low negative (clutter) and high positive (free content) impact, and certainly no different than what PBS does in other media. You simply cannot expect PBS to be able to create the awesome content it does based solely on user contributions. It certainly can’t do that on television.

    Most of the linking issue hubbub is silly. I do think that there should be (ethically) disclosure that a link or a type of link on a site is sponsored, when it isn’t obvious otherwise. But the bit about the privacy stuff, cookies, etc. is silly. This isn’t the old AOL. People who made it to the internet this far understand that links take them to internal and external places. Even children. This site is no different than any other. As to cookies and the information collected (time an unknown individual visited, pages seen, etc.), they can sell it to the North Koreans for all I care. Again, this is no different than any other site.

    The notion that PBS should be precluded from using some abilities of the internet that other sites do already without any moral or legal problem suggests less a concern about the best interest of PBS and more of a concern about the role of money and advertising in society. I’d rather see CDD take up its issue with advertising and capitalism directly, rather than fettering PBS.

    -Tig Tillinghast
    Thetford Center, VT

  2. Are you also suggesting that public broadcasting stations should be prohibited from supporting their printed member guides with ad revenue, as some now do? The net effect of extending the non-commercial rules to all public broadcasting media, rather than just the broadcast spectrum which is a license requirement, is to lower ancillary revenue and thus the money available for programming.

    The only issue we should be concerned with in sponsorship in public broadcasting’s non-broadcast communications should be sponsor control of content.

    Jim Lewis
    Lake Oswego, OR

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