No-Cost Opt-Outs & Online Content & Culture

by on December 2, 2010 · 2 comments

In his essay today, “Go On, Opt Out. Just Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me …,” John Battelle has some very sensible thinking on the “Do Not Track” idea and privacy regulation more generally:

Look, if you want to, you can put yourself on a “do not track” list in the Real World. As you walk around in our Real World, where small shopkeepers and Starbucks alike attempt to lure you into their stores, you can simply decide to ignore their come ons. You can refuse to get a grocery card, and forego the discounts they offer. You can forego the countless coupons, come ons, and catalogs that come through your newspaper, browser, or your community mailer, and if you work at it, you can even opt out through some specialized services (with more coming soon, if the FTC gets its way). And you can turn off your television (cause lord knows even the shows are trying to influence you now), and you can ignore your friends when they talk about the latest, coolest promotion that Verizon or ATT has pushed them through their cell phones. If folks insist on talking about stuff that might smack of someone selling you something, heck, you can start to dress like the Unabomber and withdraw entirely from our obviously commercial culture. You might look weird, but at least folks will leave you alone. And if you do, your world will either be better, or it will suck more. Your call.

But don’t come crying to me when you realize that in opting out of our marketing-driven world, you’ve also opted out of, well, a pretty important part of our ongoing cultural conversation, one that, to my mind, is getting more authentic and transparent thanks to digital platforms. And, to my mind, you’ve also opted out of being a thinking person capable of filtering this stuff on your own, using that big ol’ bean which God, or whoever you believe in, gave you in the first place.   Life is a conversation, and part of it is commercial. We need to buy stuff, folks. And we need to sell stuff too.

Amen, brother.  This is a point Berin Szoka and I have made repeatedly here in the past: The debate over privacy regulation is fundamentally tied up with the future of online content and culture. The idea of a cost-free opt-out model for the all online data collection / advertising may sound seductive to some, but we must take into account the opportunity costs of regulation.  The real world is full of trade-offs and, despite what the Federal Trade Commission seems to think, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

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