We don’t need no stinking regulation

the king strikes againNo where is personal branding more important than in the world of politics, which is why “making a name for yourself” is job one in government, if one wishes to advance. Washington is filled with these folks, and there’s nothing like a new administration to move the name-making rock. Enter Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Leibowitz is President Obama’s top consumer protection guy, a great position from which to take on causes and make a name for yourself. Leibowitz’s cause is online targeted advertising, and I think that makes him a very dangerous fellow. I don’t wish to beat the dead horse of privacy here, because this crusade isn’t about that. It’s about chest beating and helping those up for re-election to be able to say to constituents back home that they’re “protecting” their privacy. Bullshit.

The ignorance with which this crucially important matter is being bandied about in Washington is second only to the pathetic and transparent nature of the effort to “protect” privacy in the first place.

In a Business Week article this week (The FTC Takes On Targeted Web Ads), Leibowitz’s demagoguery on behalf of us poor, helpless consumers is evident, because the self-policing of the industry isn’t working.

But Leibowitz hints that he’s growing impatient with marketers’ efforts. “It’s not clear that they’re moving far enough or fast enough, even though they’re making some progress,” Leibowitz says. He supports the controversial approach of making more of the targeted ads on the Internet “opt-in”—meaning they would require consent from Web users before collecting data—and is in talks with members of Congress intent on drafting legislation for online ads.

One of those members of Congress is Virginia Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher, who plans on introducing a bill “by September” that would force some forms of opt-in measures on advertisers.

“My overall purpose is not to interfere with the legitimate practice of people who are doing targeted advertising,” Boucher says. “My goal is to try to create a greater sense of confidence on the part of consumers.”

Doublespeak and more BS. The purpose is self-promotion. The Business Week article fails to mention that Boucher is up for re-election in November in a race the GOP has targeted for special attention. And while Boucher has hinted that his bill might expand beyond online targeting, I’ll believe that when I see it. The Web is just too convenient and visible a target for politicians to resist.

What do banks do with your data? They sell it. Where does all that in-store data from your, say, Kroger card go, and who does what with it? 95% of what shows up in my snail mailbox is unwanted. Where does it come from and how do they know think I’m interested? As a culture, we may complain about all that, but everybody just accepts that this is advertising in America.

But the online world is a mystery. It’s the machines taking over. Oooooo. Be scared, everybody. Be very scared.

Look, I’m not saying there haven’t been or isn’t mischief in the business world over targeting, and I’m not even opposed (necessarily) to oversight. But opting-in to accept unwanted messages? As Doc Searls would say, there’s no market for that, and it would be a significant setback not only for commerce but all of publishing. Americans are sick of being bombarded by unwanted messages, but at least with targeting, they stand a chance of those messages being relevant.

And here’s the thing. What these politicians are afraid of is cookies on our computers. Oh, those evil cookies! But eliminating cookies doesn’t alter the ability to target based on behavior, because when a server (any server) connects with a browser, it records the IP address of that browser. It’s not as sophisticated, but the point is that restricting cookies doesn’t do jack shit anyway.

And finally, I’ve been writing about our cultural shift for nearly ten years. Modernism, with it’s elitist management of everything on behalf of the poor, ignorant and helpless masses, is being challenged by people revolting against institutional authority. Technology is helping it, but the shift began a half century ago, and it’s not going to go away. This smacks of big daddy government stepping in where nobody needs them to step in, at least not in such an unreasonable and self-serving fashion. The institution of government is just one that’s under attack by the people formerly known as the nameless, faceless “consumers.”

If Mr. Leibowitz wants to explore privacy, then let it be across-the-board, so that every interest group — including political operatives, who are better at “targeting” than anybody — can have their say in the matter. Then we’ll see how far it gets.

And then there’s Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook…


  1. […] which include the “Do Not Follow” concept that I’ve written about before (here, here). This is so absurd that I can’t believe adults would actually contemplate such a move. […]

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.