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    Poynter: Online Publishers Should Watch Looming Battle over Online Privacy

    At the site of the Poynter Institute (a journalism school), there’s a discussion about online privacy and Web advertising, and how changing regulations on those issues could affect journalism.

    There’s a freight train in Congress heading toward the Web that isn’t getting a lot of attention in newsrooms, though it could have a huge effect on their ability to support themselves online.

    U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (a Democrat from Virginia) is proposing legislation that could be introduced in the House next month to protect privacy on the Web. If enacted, the new law could drastically change the way information can be collected through browsers’ cookies, and it could have a serious impact on the billions of dollars spent every year on display advertising on the Web. It could even change how we use the Web itself. […]

    The crux of Boucher’s bill for the advertising industry is a plan to prevent Web sites from sharing information with “unrelated third parties.” It is just this type of third-party data collection that allows large-scale ad targeting and accounts for billions of dollars in ad sales today. When users visit a Web site and view content or click on certain ads, that data is recorded and the users can then be targeted and “re-targeted” multiple times as they travel throughout the Web.

    If Boucher’s bill becomes law, publishers, from the massive Yahoo down to solo bloggers, could lose the ability to serve ads that collect and share information without a consumer’s permission up front. […]

    Members of the IAB and other trade groups and companies tell me privately that they’re fearful of the cost and potential fallout from having to rejigger all their processes and forcing consumers to opt in, instead of out. Boucher says his bill would help the industry and add to commerce by adding a new level of trust and verification. […]

    Many experts in corporate social responsibility will tell you that the best technique to derail an oncoming train like is to go further than is being asked, for example by taking steps that have never been taken before. Fighting to maintain the status quo, on the other hand, could leave the digital advertising industry looking at the caboose.

    In September, the New York Times reported on a new survey (pdf) from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Berkeley that finds, “Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages — between 73% and 86% — say they would not want such advertising.”

    Also last month, a coalition of 10 consumer and privacy advocacy organizations, including Privacy Lives, called on Congress to enact legislation to protect consumer privacy in response to threats from the growing practices of online behavioral tracking and targeting. “Developments in the digital age urgently require the application of Fair Information Practices to new business practices,” the groups said. “Today, electronic information from consumers is collected, compiled, and sold; all done without reasonable safeguards.”

    One Response to “Poynter: Online Publishers Should Watch Looming Battle over Online Privacy”

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