Monday, September 22, 2008

Self-Regulation by Advertisers

According to this article from Media Post the Interactive Advertising Bureau is pushing for the creation of an industry body to create non-governmental rules to protect consumer privacy online. The goal of this self-regulation, as is the case with most self-regulation, is to prevent actual regulations from being imposed by Congress. While generally, consumers appear apathetic about their privacy online, it appears that advertisers might have reason to worry. Specifically, Eileen Harrington deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission has said that online privacy is a hot issue in Washington right now, and compared the situation of on-line advertisers to that of telemarketers before the government established the national Do-Not-Call-List. Given that kind of comparison, it makes sense that advertisers are thinking about regulating themselves, so they can convince Congress that regulation by government isn't necessary.

Of course, the elephant in this particular room is that it's too late - section 5 of the FTC act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive trade practices, already covers online advertisers. Moreover, the FTC already uses its authority under section 5 to prosecute online advertisers. For example, currently on the FTC's privacy site there's a link to an article about a 2.9 million dollar settlement which was wrung out of online advertiser ValueClick (link here so it isn't lost when the FTC's site is updated). While I can understand the IAB's desire to forestall more regulation, if their goal was to avoid any regulation, they're about 70 years too late.

Bonus non-legal observation: when you're making a comparison, do not say the following: "It's the same issue. What's really changed, really, is everything." It completely undermines whatever point you were trying to make by the comparison, and makes your reader/listener wonder why you drew the comparison between such dissimilar things in the first place.

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