Commentary

Web Publishers Lobby Against Privacy Regs

The Interactive Advertising Bureau convinced around 30 Web publishers to pay their own way to Washington, D.C. this week, where they're lobbying against potential new privacy laws.

A handful of them came to an IAB luncheon today at the National Press Club, after spending the morning on the Hill. While no new federal laws are on the table yet, the entrepreneurs were adamant that they opposed nearly any form of regulation.

Voicing sentiments that seemed to be shared by others, Elfster's Peter Imburg said he feared that any laws that would make the ad-serving process "more burdensome" would put his business at risk.

At the same time, Imburg, like the other publishers present, said he currently notified people about ad targeting and allowed them to opt out.

Given that, it's hard to say whether new privacy laws would hinder Web publishers, or would only require them to do what they're already doing.

In the past, proposals have involved enshrining current voluntary standards in law. Those standards generally call for companies to tell consumers about tracking and allow them to opt out of it, but don't usually call for opt-in consent.

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While it's plausible that someone will introduce a federal bill requiring Web companies to obtain people's explicit consent to behavioral targeting, that hasn't happened yet.

Certainly some of the other specific concerns raised by publishers seemed premature. One said he thought an attempt to define IP addresses as "personally identifiable" might prevent his site from geo-targeting visitors based on their IP addresses. But geo-targeting doesn't involve what most in the industry think of as behavioral targeting -- that is, tracking people across a variety of sites and serving ads based on users' presumed interests.

Yes, some privacy advocates have talked about limiting the length of time that search engines should keep logs showing users' IP addresses and queries. But storing search logs is very different from dynamically serving ads based on the IP addresses of visitors.

Another publisher, Eduardo Hauser of DailyMe, said he feared that new laws would prevent him from personalizing content for visitors. The site currently customizes pages based on users' prior activity -- but only their activity on the site itself. In other words, DailyMe isn't serving content to visitors based on information gleaned through tracking them at other sites.

That's not to say that companies like DailyMe have no reason to be concerned. It's always possible that a poorly drafted law will unintentionally affect practices that don't have much to do with behavioral targeting.

And it makes sense for Web publishers -- and any other interested parties -- to share their concerns with lawmakers. But without a specific proposal on the table, it's hard to know whether those concerns are realistic.

1 comment about "Web Publishers Lobby Against Privacy Regs".
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  1. Janis Mccabe from jmod35, June 10, 2009 at 7:07 p.m.

    I'm single w/no children. I'm 5'8". I weigh about 130 lbs. Do the math on that, okay? If you can't figure it out, I'm pretty close to skinny -- and for the better part of mylifetime too. So, what are the ads that get served up to me daily on nearly every website I visit? "Such-and-such-a-town's" moms have lost X (usually a lot) pounds on "such-and-such" diet.

    Do ya think some of these ad servers might be marketing extremely poorly? Just a little bit? I've actually considering clicking on some of the ads, thinking -- pretend I had the power/the capacity to get some kind of a change -- of telling them to just get a grip and to please stop totally and completely just annoying heck out of me, taking up space on my screen and on time loading pages on my computer. Why don't they serve up ads that just might be of the tiniest bit interesting/intriguing to me?

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