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2013 Prediction: Initiatives to Regulate Privacy #fail

January 29, 2013

Privacy watchdog goes a bite too far: no internet at all

Privacy watchdog goes a bite too far: no internet at all


Attempts to regulate consumer privacy will have no more than an emotional impact in 2013. Meaningful restrictions on data collection by advertisers and publishers will not happen, as legislators and regulators fail to achieve consensus and citizen support.

Here are three reasons regulatory initiatives will not have any real impact in 2013.

First, persistence and motivation are not on regulators’ side.

For years, I fought to rid my attic of squirrels. The squirrels always won, because their survival depended on a warm nest. They thought about it 24/7. My survival did not depend on getting rid of the squirrels, and I had other things on my mind like work, childcare, dinner, and TV.

Advertisers are the squirrels. Consumers are the home owners. Advertisers and millions of web sites see customer data collection as fundamental to their health and survival. Legislators and consumers have many other issues on their minds. Reelection. Terrorism. War. The budget. The economy. Dinner. Privacy is only 1/5 as hot a topic as it was 8 years ago. Advertisers will win the battles.

Second, persuasion erodes their confidence and citizen support.

The Digital Advertising Alliance has published seven Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising. The first principle is education (meaning, I believe, persuasion). If you want to persuade the world of your point of view, who do you call? Advertisers. If you want to avoid persuasion, who do you call? PBS. Enough said, we are persuaded.

Third, ambivalence and disagreement shatter on the rocks of certainty.

Partly as a result of all that education, regulators and law makers around the world cannot agree on even the basics. How much of a person’s privacy, and what aspects of privacy, should be protected by regulation? Does legislation protecting one country’s citizens on the world wide web promote privacy or does it constrain which services and information will be offered? Is that a net gain (privacy) or a net loss (isolation)? They can’t estimate the impact of changing the economics of the Internet by restraining advertising and commercial activities, and don’t want to be responsible for destroying such a vast public good. Not surprisingly, advertisers tell them they are fingering the nuclear trigger. Advertisers are not ambivalent, they are rock-hard certain-sure that they are right. They know what they are fighting for, and what it’s worth.

Regulations will continue to be proposed and considered and amended and discussed and evaluated. Some will eventually be written. Some will be implemented in some fashion. Some will also be enforced in some way. Advertisers will continue to politely and carefully collect and use personal information. Consumers will be living in a digital small town. We plan to publish this post every January, changing only the title.

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