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Stupid Media Watch: Another Mindless Parrot

5/03/11

By Ken Magill

Yet another example of how privacy whackos will make any claim—no matter how ridiculous—in their war on effective online advertising while reporters swallow their idiocy without even a hint of disbelief, comes to us courtesy of a recent article in the New York Times.

Appearing in the Times online on April 28, the piece reported that the Federal Trade Commission is pushing the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children.

According to the Times, FTC officials believe the consumption of too much unhealthy food is to blame for the so-called childhood obesity epidemic. And, of course, since none of these kids have parents with spines, multiple industries must be pounded into submission to save our children from being turned into junk-food-eating auto-bots by evil advertisers.

The food police have apparently failed to consider the fact that junk food has been produced and advertised to kids for decades—“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”—and this supposed epidemic is relatively recent.

If this epidemic is real, then something has changed over the course of two or three generations and it’s not junk food and the marketing that sells it.

But I digress.

In the last paragraph of the Times piece came the following utterly ridiculous, out-of-the-blue opinion:

“Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a group that focuses on Internet marketing to children, said the FTC proposal had broader implications,” said the piece. “’The youth obesity issue has placed all digital marketing in the regulatory cross hairs,’” Mr. Chester said.

Really?

First, near as I can tell, Chester’s “group” consists of one guy: him. Moreover, he doesn’t focus on Internet advertising to children. He hates all targeted, effective Internet advertising.

Also, his statement that the youth obesity issue has placed all digital marketing in the regulatory cross hairs is ridiculous. He and a bunch of other fear mongers—along with the help of some ignorant government officials—have put digital marketing in the regulatory cross hairs.

But, of course, if one didn’t make ridiculous claims, one wouldn’t be an online privacy advocate, now would one?

I interviewed Chester in 2006 after he and the so-called consumer advocacy organization U.S. Public Interest Group filed a complaint urging the FTC to investigate online advertising.

The complaint made the ridiculous assertion that even if advertisers don’t have names and addresses, Internet-usage information used in serving behaviorally targeted ads constitutes personally identifiable information, or PII.

The ploy was a transparent effort to redefine PII so they could get even anonymously served, targeted ads regulated—an effort that sadly has been semi-successful.

When I challenged the assertion that anonymous-tracking data was PII, Chester gave the following howler of a quote: “When you take powerful content applications, and when you take marketing strategies through ad networks across Web sites without user consent and you're targeting them based on what you've identified [as] their psycho-social vulnerabilities and interests, that's personally identifiable information.”

Got that? In Privacy Whacko Droolyville, people’s wants and interests are “psycho-social vulnerabilities.”

When I told Chester his assertion was ridiculous, he got upset and demanded to speak to my editor. He told me I was the only reporter who had challenged him.

I could be misremembering, but don’t believe he ever did speak with my editor. I can say if he did, it wouldn’t have done him any good.

In any case, the fact that Chester was so unaccustomed to being challenged was a truly sad statement on consumer and trade reporters’ coverage of the debate over online privacy and advertising.

And judging by the idiotic statement the Times reporter allowed Chester to make in his piece indicates Chester still isn’t used to being challenged.

U.S.-based companies spent a record $26 billion on Internet advertising in 2010, up 15 percent from the previous year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Chester and his ilk want to outlaw the tools that made Internet advertising the booming industry it is.

If they succeed—and they probably will—it’ll be because too many reporters in a position to do so have failed to identify privacy advocates’ endless string of increasingly ridiculous claims for the baseless idiocy they are.

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