So, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its revised “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising” today and it’s bound to generate a lot of commentary from those privacy advocates who seem to believe that we can never go far enough in regulating the flow of information online or limiting commercial marketing. Berin Szoka and I will have a PFF paper out shortly [update: here it is] discussing the report in more detail, but for now I just wanted to mention one thing that peeves me about this report and the debate about online advertising in general.
The thing I find so intriguing about reports like this is the way that they implicitly assume that consumers are utterly helpless sheep who completely fail to understand how to protect their own privacy, to the extent those consumers are even sensitive about it at all. Specifically, there’s always this argument about how consumers don’t have “adequate notice” or “meaningful choice” when it comes to website privacy policies or how their information might be collected or used to serve up better ads.
Frankly, I think these concerns have been completely blown out of proportion by privacy zealots who would make just about any use of information, or effort to use it to target ads, a federal crime. Worse yet, there’s a ‘something-for-nothing’ element to these debates that always irks me. Some of these regulatory advocates seem to be under the impression that all these free Internet services and innovations fall to us like manna from heaven and that the good times will just keep on rollin’ right along even as they advocate regulations that would completely undercut the Internet’s primary economic engine: targeted advertising.
Privacy Notice for Dummies (or “There Really is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”)
See, now wasn’t that simple? Can we get on with letting the Internet work better already? Geesh.