Online Ad Lobby: A Failure of Vision and Ethical Responsibility

Online ad and other marketing industry lobbyists, in responding to the recent call for Congress to enact privacy safeguards, have failed to seriously address the central public interest issues.  One lobbyist even went so far as to suggest that people want to be tracked, profiled and targeted through their ethnic/racial and political online behaviors.  Others have claimed that providing the public control over what information about them is collected and how it’s used would somehow lead to the erosion of online publishing.  Beyond the absurdity and short-sightedness of such claims, what these online ad leaders fail to address are the civil liberties and consumer protection concerns at the core of the debate.

A democratic society in the digital era–given the current and prospective power of the global online data collection and targeting system–requires serious limits on both commercial and governmental surveillance.  The development of digital dossiers on citizens and others is the realm of dictatorships and autocrats–not a democracy.  That’s why it’s in the interest of responsible advertisers as our fellow citizens to help ensure there are limits on data collection, analysis, use.  By providing individuals greater control and autonomy over the digital marketing process–through federal rules requiring transparency, accountability, and meaningful limits to data collection–we can help protect our civil liberties and provide needed consumer protections.  Everyone recognizes that we are using online to engage in very personal transactions, including health, finance, and politics.  We will be, needless to say, writing more on all this.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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