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Stupid Advocate Watch: Proof They're Out to Kill Online Advertising

9/13/11

By Ken Magill

If there is anyone who believes privacy advocates will be satisfied with anything short of an online ad industry that’s been destroyed, consider a letter last week sent from the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue to the Federal Trade Commission.

Founded in 1998, the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue is based in London and represents EU and American so-called consumer and public-interest groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

Apparently since the online behavioral ad industry has failed to commit suicide, its self-regulatory efforts haven’t gone far enough as far as this gang is concerned.

Launched last year by the Digital Advertising Alliance—a collection of the top American advertising-and-marketing trade groups—the industry’s self-regulatory effort involves an “ad choices” triangular icon placed on online ads.

People who click on the icon can learn more about behaviorally targeted advertising and opt out of participating companies’ ads.

How ubiquitous the icon is, is debatable. But the icon’s ubiquity—or lack thereof—is not among the issues on which the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue chooses to make its stand.

First, the group claims, the triangle icon isn’t sufficient to provide people with proper notice of data collection. The evidence? People don’t click on it.

That’s funny. A triangle is good enough to serve as a symbol for recycling.

“Industry research conducted on the icon-based program already demonstrates that very few users ever click on it, let alone decide to opt-out,” the letter said. “Yet the icon is the foundation of what’s supposed to be a robust program of ‘best’ practices that can effectively empower users to make critical choices about their online privacy.”

The group also takes issue with the fact that the icon’s landing page explains the uses and benefits of online advertising.

“Consumers who may click on the icon are initially dissuaded from taking appropriate measures to safeguard their privacy, as they confront an array of information that online profiling is primarily about providing them with ‘appropriate’ advertising, is non-personal, and supports their access to a ‘free’ Internet,” the letter said.

At least the scare quotes around the word free indicate that somewhere in their utopia-fogged brains they understand that nothing is truly free. They simply don’t like the current setup and the fact that the rest of us are fine with it, or in their minds too stupid to know what’s good for us.

The letter goes on to complain about other aspects of the program, including that it is cookie based. But other perceived weaknesses in the program aren’t really the point, are they?

The point is people aren’t making the decisions privacy advocates want them to make. They aren’t opting out; therefore, the program is a failure.

In the minds of privacy zealots, people who don’t opt out are either stupid or uninformed.

The language of the letter says it all: “[V]ery few users ever click on it, let alone decide to opt-out … Consumers … are initially dissuaded from taking appropriate measures to safeguard their privacy, as they confront an array of information.”

As soon as that language is introduced, their true goal becomes clear and nothing else they say matters.

As far as these hacks are concerned, there is only one “appropriate measure” to safeguard consumer privacy and that is to opt out of behaviorally served ads despite the fact that they make online advertising viable and not a single person has ever been hurt by them.

The privacy advocates behind that letter hate marketing and advertising. They want it crippled out of existence. They think the Internet can be one big PBS. And if they say anything different, they’re lying.

Make no mistake: The online privacy movement wants to take us back to 1998 when banners didn’t work. And somehow, they think businesses will continue to pay for non-working ads and our Internet experience will continue to improve.

They live in a fairy land where everything can be free without the need for any sort of currency exchanging hands.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to bestow these privacy zealots with 20 added IQ points for 10 minutes and amuse ourselves while we watched them spend those 10 minutes appalled at how stupid they are. Unfortunately, we simply have to deal with them.

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