As you might imagine, it's not easy to draft highly detailed regulatory language that can clearly and effectively attack the bad uses of complex and fast-changing technologies without creating some collateral damage for other legitimate users of the same technologies. That is one of the reasons why nearly every sizeable business and every industry sector spends so much time in places like Washington, working hard so that their legitimate practices don't get caught up and entangled with well-meaning legislative and regulatory efforts. As the online ad industry continues to grow and mature, it is clear that we will find ourselves having to manage these issues with greater and greater frequency.
What did I learn in my time on "The Hill" this week. as I went from office to office talking about the importance of not harming legitimate applications of online advertising -- our fast-growing $20-billion-a-year industry in the U.S. -- while killing our common scourge, spyware? I learned that online advertising is not well understood, nor is it particularly cared about. While we in the industry spend all of our days thinking, talking and living the ad-supported Web media world, policymakers don't. No surprise here, but that fact is going to present a growing challenge to our industry. Almost all of the policymakers that I talked to readily admitted that there were likely to be "unintended consequences" for the legitimate online ad industry with the passage of anti-spyware legislation --consequences they viewed as just one of the costs of protecting the public from the harms of spyware. They understand that we have issues, but haven't yet been convinced that protecting the online ad industry matters.
What became very clear to me is that we have a lot of work to do in making the case for our industry "inside the Beltway." We have to proactively answer the questions that I heard at every stop, "What value does online advertising provide to consumers?" "How would consumers be hurt if the industry was constrained?" "How does the industry impact them 'back in the district'?'"
All of our industry needs to start thinking about these issues and working on developing and telling our story. Content, services and applications on the Web are only free for one reason: our advertising pays for it. We're not like the cable industry, where consumer subscription fees make their way down the line to the content providers. We are creating thousands and thousands of new, high-paying jobs every quarter, and these jobs are located throughout the country. If our industry is hampered by overly burdensome regulatory efforts, consumers will lose. We need to develop and deliver that story. If we don't, no one else will, and we will likely see constraints placed on our industry not for good reasons, but out of ignorance. What do you think?