I feel this way because I find the fundamentals ushered in by "the majority" influencing our industry's collective direction to be both misguided and short-sighted. I felt this way from day one. Our early leaders made monumental mistakes, and our current leaders continue to sweep these errors under the rug instead of cleaning them up.
In our exuberant immaturity of the mid '90s, we made an active decision to tie our perceived value to the success metrics of the campaigns we sold. We did this to circumvent the natural "proving process" any new medium must endure in order to earn a greater share of the overall marketing pie. Instant advertising sales success was our overt goal, and patience was not in our nature. So we waved our click-through flags and said, look at us -- look at what we can do that the other media cannot.
This forced us to over-focus on producing pinpoint targeting solutions in order to improve campaign performance metrics -- AKA, our perceived value. Prior media had audience response data to work with, but none were foolish enough to wave this data in front of advertisers as primary benefits the way online publishers and agencies bragged about clicks and conversions.
This error in judgment, in turn, led our collective conscience to excuse behavior that jeopardized user privacy. The more information we could obtain without implicit consumer consent, the more targeting we could sell -- which in theory meant ads would perform better and we'd make more money selling them. The business folks started to overwhelm the consumer marketing people in dot-com conference rooms, and monetizing user attention dominated our obligation to reward it with vigilant protection of user privacy.
No medium before us threw consumer privacy so blatantly under the bus, and now this has all caught up to us. Our business practices have drawn the ire and attention of those living in the Beltway, far outside our dot-com world. And they appear to be arriving at the question, "What is it that you dot-com guys are doing without implicit consumer consent?"
This from a recent story by MediaPost's Wendy Davis: "Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has said he plans to introduce privacy legislation this year. While the details of any planned bills still aren't known, the IAB fears that Boucher's bill would require companies to obtain Web users' opt-in consent before data is shared with third parties."
The IAB is worried that if users have to opt in to grant consent on what we do with their information, our business will suffer. If requiring consumer consent hurts the ability of a business to function properly, that business is flawed to begin with, no?
Instead of licking our wounds and considering how our world can change for the better if we recalled all of the practices that make online advertising "creepy," our anointed leaders keep telling anyone who will listen that we can clean this mess up ourselves. We'll just make it clearer for users to understand how they are being tracked "anonymously," and why our picking through their trash bins of personal data makes things better for them.
Except that this "we do it for your benefit" claim is also flawed. First, the tracking of personal data to serve highly targeted ads is no longer anonymous when the ads show up. If I am on Facebook or Yahoo, and my new girlfriend is sitting next to me, and ads for dating sites are constantly displayed, the targeting is no longer anonymous, is it? Now explain how these targeted ads are making things better for me?
"Better" is a relative term most accurately defined by each individual. Making a broad, sweeping proclamation that serving targeted ads based on collected data without direct consent is better for all users, is ridiculous. Oxygen is good for everyone. Water is good for everyone. A targeted ad served without implicit consent is neither air nor oxygen.
Our business is littered with wrongdoings when it comes to consumer privacy, but the solution to clean this up is not complicated. We can still do many of the things we currently do, but only when we get direct opt-in permission from the user.
Asking for permission is an easy concept for children to understand. Why is it so hard for us?