As most of you know, a game-changing proposed bill is being circulated up on Capitol Hill that would regulate the online collection, use and disclosure of consumer information for targeted advertising and marketing. If passed, it could rewrite the rules of the Internet.
Just to be clear, the bill does not appear to be aimed at businesses like Silverpop’s. We deal exclusively with permission-based relationships. Additionally, each customer’s data is kept entirely separate—we do not buy, sell or trade data between third parties or customers.
With that caveat in place, I am still concerned about this bill. As a Web consumer, I enjoy a tremendous range of free content on the Internet—from news sites to social networks. For the most part, these sites generate revenue from advertising. And effective Internet advertising requires that my actions are analyzed so I can be targeted with appropriate and relevant promotions.
Here's the problem. Most consumers have no idea whatsoever about the amount of information that is tracked and traded about them. This behind-the-scenes business has been around for decades, and it was made into a billion-dollar industry by the credit companies like Equifax and Experian. Contrary to widely held beliefs, these businesses do a LOT more with your private data than simply issue credit scores. The Web builds on this history by gathering more data, more broadly and by more companies. But, again, consumers have little idea this is going on, and therefore most will be unlikely to give the opt-in permission that this bill would require.
Requiring permission is a death sentence for many of the ad networks, and a potentially huge revenue impact on sites that depend on advertising. I don't see a happy middle ground on this issue, but I am nonetheless optimistic that consumers' interest in free content will win over the idealism that seems to be driving this legislation. And, even if the bill passes in some form, the email world long ago created an effective permission gathering framework that has stood the test of time. With some work, this framework could be extended to encompass multi-site advertising, at least for those companies that consumers opt in to.