Today, on behalf of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, I am testifying before Congress on proposed legislation to combat spyware. While that may seem like a black and white issue that should be easy
to write and talk about, it is more complicated than it would appear. I assure you that any time you get involved in public policy issues, things are never black and white, but instead constantly
changing shades of gray.
You and I both know that ours is a complex industry that can be derailed in a heartbeat. The political process can be maddeningly thorough, investigating all
points of view and often arriving at the most popular decision rather than the right one. This is why I care so deeply about the public policy issues that surround our industry. Get distracted for
even a minute, and you can end up with rules, regulations and laws that can choke off your business.
That said, what will I say to Congress today? That spyware is bad. It can
corrupt computers and it terrorizes users. It lowers the credibility for all online advertising because consumers are not entirely certain what it is and how it may differ from something more benign
like cookies. All they know is that they don't like it and don't like people trying to trick them with it.
In this case, Congressional involvement is good. While I am not a big fan of
government intervention, the focus of Congress and folks like Rep. Bono and Rep. Barton on combating spyware has changed the game. Before their interest, spyware was a much bigger problem. Since they
focused on the problem, it has largely disappeared. The Federal Trade Commission is making it tough for those who knowingly and unknowingly collaborate on spyware. The FTC is not only
penalizing spyware delivery companies, but also the advertisers who use the nefarious downloads to display their ads. This pressure is also dramatically helping reduce the spyware problem. Common sense still wins. While many people spend their time worrying about what is legal, smart folks worry instead about what is right. Congress respects the efforts of those who seek to do the
right thing rather than split hairs over what is legal and what isn't. Interestingly, most public policy issues tend to lean toward those trying to do the right thing.
As this, and past
columns, have made clear, I care a lot about public policy issues. Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but I think it is extremely important that as an industry we track public policy issues very carefully
and get involved whenever we think legislation may affect us. I can tell you that numbers count in this game. The more of you who get involved, the louder will be our voice in Washington. Don't wait
for the other guy to take the lead. Please join the effort.