The Poynter column quotes Matthew Wise, president and CEO of Q Interactive, noting that online data collection enables free Web content. "How many consumers want to pay $1,000 a month to have access to the Internet?" Wise reportedly asked at a privacy event earlier this year.
But that kind of argument, though often repeated by industry executives, is wearing thin these days. One problem is that there's no empirical support for the idea that consumers would have to pay anything like $1,000 a month -- or even $10 a month -- if new legislation was enacted. Behavioral targeting might contribute to online ad revenue, but at this point it's thought to account for just a small proportion of ad dollars.
What's more, this line of argument already appears dated, considering that some content sites say they will put up paid walls regardless of privacy legislation. Starting Wednesday, Newsday will charge some people $5 a week to access its Web site, while the News Corp.-NBC venture Hulu could start charging by next year, Chase Carey, president and chief operating officer of News Corp. said last week. Executives at other newspapers have said they, too, want to start collecting money from Web visitors.
To date publishers haven't been nearly as vocal about the prospect of regulation as the Interactive Advertising Bureau or other ad groups. But when publishers have weighed in, they've made it clear they're not particularly enthusiastic about new privacy laws. Last year, for instance, the Newspaper Association of America said it opposed the FTC's voluntary guidelines, arguing that government-sanctioned standards could infringe on newspapers' First Amendment rights.
It's understandable that companies don't want to see legislation that could even potentially affect their ability to offer ads. But that doesn't mean it makes sense to link free online content (which appears likely to dwindle in any event) with the unlimited ability to track people online.