The Direct Marketing Association has launched a new lobbying and education campaign aimed at touting the potential benefits of online tracking.
The goal of the Data-Driven Marketing Institute, unveiled on Monday, is prevention of "needless regulation or enforcement that could severely hamper consumer marketing and stifle innovation," the DMA said.
DMA acting CEO Linda Woolley said at a press conference that the group hopes to "set the record straight and correct the mischaracterizations" about how marketers use data.
"There seems to be a lot of fear-mongering out there that is just inaccurate," she said.
She specifically referenced an op-ed by FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, in which he imagined visiting a shopping mall where he was trailed by a man with a walkie-talkie. "What if the man with the walkie-talkie sells information about my shopping behavior to my health insurer, who raises my rates based on my purchase of a deep-fat fryer?" Leibowitz asked in the piece.
Woolley calls that possibility "flat wrong."
She added that "privacy zealots" aren't able to articulate any harm that comes from data-driven marketing. "You get an ad from Macy's, but you really like shopping at Nordstroms? So ignore it," she said.
Woolley also said during the press conference that consumers aren't clamoring for new privacy protections. "People aren't marching on Congress," she said, adding that customers aren't "voting with their feet" by refusing to download apps, use loyalty cards or otherwise provide data to marketers.
A DMA video for the new $1 million-plus initiative is meant to show how consumers can benefit by sharing information with marketers -- such as by receiving coupons.
Privacy advocate Jeff Chester, executive of the Center for Digital Democracy, criticized the DMA's effort. "I don't think that any direct-marketing-is-good-for-you campaign can cover up the facts," he says. "DMA members have unleashed powerful new 'Big Data' tactics to better surveil and target today's consumers."
The DMA initiative comes as some lawmakers increasingly are raising concerns about online data collection. Earlier this month, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) wrote to Leibowitz to voice support for the agency's efforts to help craft voluntary do-not-track standards.
The FTC is encouraging the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium to develop guidelines to implement browser-based headers that, when activated, send a signal that users don't want to be tracked online. Rockefeller also called the current self-regulatory system a failure, largely because industry principles allow ad networks to collect data about consumers even after they have opted out of online behavioral advertising.