Got a call this morning from Rafael. Nice kid. He explained he worked for the New York Post and was calling to let me know they were scheduling home delivery in my neighborhood. He then asked my name, and if I would be interested in signing up for this delivery option.
I responded, "How did you get my number?"
He answered, "I don't know."
I said, "I can't consider your offer until I know how you got my number."
He sighed. "I got your number by doing my job. I'm just doing my job, man."
I replied derisively, "Do you know that by doing your job, you're calling a number that is registered on the do not call list? " Then I hung up the phone.
Why was I so rude to a kid just doing his job? I could easily have said "no thanks" as soon as I realized it was a telemarketing call. Instead, I acted out the frustrations I felt upon learning my privacy was compromised -- and from knowing I can't do anything about it.
Privacy is a word representing all of us in the court of humankind. What is rightfully ours is for no others without our consent. That's why little kids cry when forced to share their toys, and why adults don't dare open a letter or an email addressed to someone else. The online advertising industry treats privacy like a word that can be redefined. From day one, we snubbed consumers by placing our needs above theirs -- requiring them to opt out of our private data collection practices, versus inviting them to opt in to experience the unique benefits we can deliver (see the difference!).
We cover our tracks on the wrong side of this issue with the cloak of "anonymous." Anonymous doesn't mean someone's privacy isn't breached. If someone reads a letter addressed to me without my permission but my name is scrubbed off the document, my emotional self-worth still takes a hit. So would yours.
We say we gather this data for "their own good." Like in a salesman met shopping for a car on a Thursday showing up Friday morning in front of your local Starbucks kind of own good?
We say how easy it is to opt out of our business tactics. This is a bad joke I wish we would stop telling. Opting out is never going to be easier than telling consumers that if they do nothing, their private data will not be collected.
We see ourselves as innovators -- and people find us creepy. We forget clients are people, too, and their personal biases sway their business thinking. Television spending soars disproportionately higher because clients love how their ads look on TV. When clients look at online, they are shown more complex methods of consumer surveillance to target ads clients ironically will never see appear.
We are failing as a medium. The search revenue we count to inflate our success blinds us to these failures. Our flaws are structural, and how we have handled the issue of privacy is one of them.
The IAB had a chance to correct this flaw. Instead, they made it worse by lobbying Congress to allow them to self-regulate and universally offer consumers the chance to "easily" opt out. The IAB should have been asking Congress for help in drafting universal protection so consumers could visit a Web site assuring them that no one is collecting their private data unless they opt in for that experience. Imagine that. We would go from creepy to caring with one click.
The downside to this opt-in approach would have been the decrease in the volume of data-driven, targeted impressions for sale. That was the collective cry from third-party companies and dot-com publishing members the IAB represents. The IAB got this wrong, too. There is too much volume. There would be fewer highly targeted impressions driven by opt-in collected data, and CPMs would rise -- changing our medium's perception to a premium value to advertisers instead of a bottom-feeding cesspool.
This issue is black and white, so save your color on how opt-out is better for anyone but us. As an industry, we have made it clear through our handling of privacy that our interests are above the interests of the consumer we are meant to serve. That is a recipe for failure -- and I feel just as helpless telling you this now, as I did talking with Rafael.