The Fox Guarding the Hen House

My latest MediaPost column attracted the ire of none other than Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). 

So incensed with my accusation that many publishers abuse consumer privacy, he resorted to ad hominem attacks, going so far as to accuse me of "conning my readers."

Sadly, ignoring his bluster, Mr. Rothenberg is just doing his job.

A Vehicle for Influence
The IAB is an association of 375 media and technology companies whose livelihood depends on advertising, much like many of the readers of Online Publishing Insider. These publishers pay dues every year to keep Mr. Rothenberg gainfully employed defending their interests.

One of the primary missions of the IAB, as stated on its Web site, is to "fend off adverse legislation and regulation." As Mr. Rothenberg pointed out in his article, IAB members have testified before the House of Representatives and the FTC, and visited more than 50 congressional offices in support of their goals. They even released a study to show the economic impact of the online advertising industry.



These companies have an obligation to their shareholders to do anything within the confines of the law to maximize shareholder value. Lobbying to prevent laws that are not in their best interest is well within their rights.

He Doth Protest Too Much
As a capitalist, I take no issue with the IAB's efforts to curry favor.

As a consumer, however, I find it incredibly ironic that the proposed solution to publishers invading consumers' privacy is to have those very same publishers advertise to them about how to protect it.

I trust every publisher to protect my privacy as much as I trust every banker to not take risk.

The self-regulation "principles," and "guidelines," lack the sting of a jail sentence. With hundreds of thousands of Web sites in the U.S. alone, there is no way to effectively self-regulate the whole industry. The impact of abuse is so great that there needs to be a legal framework to dissuade bad behavior.

At the end of the day, it is crazy for a publisher -- which makes its money by selling user attention and user information -- to be tasked with protecting the privacy of those very same users.

This is not a complex issue; it is purely common sense. All the statistics and rhetoric Mr. Rothenberg offered up only serve to obfuscate the basic problem: publishers should not be the ones protecting user privacy. There is a fundamental conflict of interest that cannot be resolved with self-regulation or lobbying.

The Challenge
Since Mr. Rothenberg gets paid to advance the agenda of publishers, I am formally offering him the opportunity to earn his keep, by debating the issue of consumer privacy with me live at an upcoming MediaPost event.

How about it, Mr. Rothenberg, are you up to the challenge?

You bring the statistics; I'll bring the common sense.


5 comments about "The Fox Guarding the Hen House".
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  1. Jaffer Ali from PulseTV, January 29, 2010 at 1:05 p.m.

    David, you really must leave this industry. You have demonstrated way too much sensibility for an industry steeped in narcissism. The Truth of what you say is clear and I can only say job well done.

  2. Jeff Einstein from The Brothers Einstein, January 29, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.

    Well done, David.

    Perhaps Randall Rothenberg should consider a highly targeted IAB industry education campaign targeting behavioral targeting advocates who target publishers and advertisers and agencies who want to target everyone with highly targeted ads that no one wants in the first place (except the IAB and the behavioral targeting advocates). Better yet, maybe Randall should just pick up the phone and give 'em both a call.

    Keep up the good work, David...

  3. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd, January 29, 2010 at 7:08 p.m.

    Bravo David ...

    But I very much doubt now that you will be considered to fill the "vacant" (IAB) board chair from recent times. Or, be invited to "ring the closing bell", either.

    Tough luck, David.

  4. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd, February 1, 2010 at 8:47 a.m.

    here is a Link to my post (just now) over on the Yahoo Finance chat boards.

    The content of the post should explain itself well enough.


    There is no excuse (at all) that China can offer in relation to cyber attacks, that have been said to have been made, coming from China.

    But any argument on China's CENSORSHIP must be instantly forgotten when the same thing is going on here on this site. And on a regular basis.

    The original article "The Fox Guarding the Hen House", comments made and the Link to it, has been deleted.

    This is a scandal particularly in view of the fact that the IAB are right in the middle of the "hen house" and have certainly (in this instance), 'shown their hand' at such an early stage.

    It really is a shame and the perpetrators are not allowing a balanced view on this critical subject to get a fair airing.

    And the media jumps on China?

    Here is that Link again.



    Now let's see how long Yahoo (no doubt a member and an extension of the IAB) , takes to remove the above post.

    This whole subject is a concern that I agree with David Koretz, deserves a lot more scrutiny, I feel.

  5. Ngoc T from Iowa, March 16, 2010 at 2:09 p.m.

    I have quietly read your articles for years, David. This time, I cannot remain silent.

    Yours is a voice on behalf of those who cannot speak. Bravo.

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