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Former journalist and now online ad industry lobbyist Randall Rothenberg, in a BusinessWeek commentary, suggests that the call for privacy rules ensuring individuals have control over their data will undermine the Internet. You would think a Madison Ave. trade group could craft more creative PR copy. But the online ad industry’s position is indefensible, since they built a system based on the harvesting of our information without believing they would need to get our permission first. The IAB board should realize it has embarked on a very dangerous campaign here that will undermine credibility for many marketers. Here’s my response submitted to BusinessWeek:
Mr. Rothenberg, as head of the interactive ad trade group lobbying against the call from consumer groups for the government to protect personal privacy online, fails to address the central question regarding online advertising. The call for regulation is designed to ensure individuals control their data while on the Internet or using their mobile phones—not companies such as Google, Microsoft, and AOL. Public interest groups are not opposed to interactive marketing: indeed, we recognize it as a key source of funds for online publishing. But Mr. Rothenberg’s members have created a commercial surveillance system that rivals the NSA—tracking and analyzing our every move while on the Internet, all so we can be encouraged to behave favorably to some marketing message. Responsible ad industry leaders will seriously address the privacy threats created by the interactive marketing apparatus—and not hide behind self-serving claims that unless our privacy is lost, we won’t have a robust digital medium.

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