Will the Web break if we stop invading the privacy of our users?
Nothing is more annoying than the use of repetition to attempt to get a dumb argument to stick.
Going permission-based will not bring the Web screeching to a halt, and it doesn't have to negatively impact our industry. That's just Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (F.U.D.) selling by idiots. Instead of arguing on facts, they make sweeping half-truths in an attempt to frighten us into compliance.
I for one, refuse to comply. I firmly believe that you can build a great Web-based business without invading user privacy.
Where Everybody Loses
Why invade user privacy at all? The presumption has always been that taking advantage of user privacy is good for the industry if you can brush off those pesky privacy advocates in their Priuses and New Beetles.
In order to have a thoughtful debate, we must first understand who, if anyone, is actually the beneficiary of the privacy invasion.
For starters, publishers are not beneficiaries of the current model. Most publishers are being set up to fail by an industry that added tracking and ROI measurement without fixing the problems with creative quality and optimization. Most publishers hate direct response (DR) advertising, because they don't look good when measured on DR. Ironically, they should be using user privacy as an opportunity to hit the reset switch on advertiser expectations and approach.
Users certainly do not win. Nothing is more offensive than the argument that we are using tracking cookies for the user's own good. It is time stop treating our users like the Unwashed Masses. They are more than smart enough to decide if they want us tracking them.
Ultimately, advertisers also lose. We are training them to believe that good targeting makes up for sloppy creative execution. It does not, and never has.
Make It Up in Volume
After nearly a decade of tossing user privacy out the window, we collectively have petabytes (a million gigabytes for the less geeky among us) of audience data. We know what they search for, what demographics they fall into, what products they buy, and what websites they visit.
Despite all this data, most online advertising still sucks.
Let's stop kidding ourselves and each other. We have not demonstrated we know how to use that data to make advertising better. Just creepier.
Europe Leads the Way
Interestingly enough, the European Union is leading the charge in user privacy. In November 2009, the EU passed a law that within 18 months, companies will have to explicitly get user permission in order to place tracking cookies on a user's site.
While there are some practical issues of the law that have yet to be worked out, the spirit of the law is right on.
The Great Debate (that never happened)
Some of you may remember my challenge to Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the IAB. I have been overwhelmed with emails from people asking when the debate is finally going to happen.
People wanted to hear a healthy discourse, and reach their own conclusions.
Unfortunately, despite his public bluster, Rothenberg refused to debate the issue live among a jury of his peers. I even offered to do the debate athis own conference.
If the people that are supposed to be advocating for our industry are going to pretend to lead us, they should at least pretend to listen to both sides of the argument.
The Road Ahead
We can build the future of online advertising without scorching the earth of user privacy as we go.
First we must stop hiding behind the veil of technology.