The Morning After Regulation.

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So now the beast has begun to emerge from the shadows.  The return of Voldemort is nigh and the call is going out to all the Death Eaters to assemble to do the Dark Lord’s bidding.  Yes, Rep. Rich Boucher (D-Virginia) has released his draft of the online privacy bill for public comment.  Let the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth begin!

Let’s all take a breath.

I’m not suggesting for a second that this isn’t a critical issue for the online ad industry or that such a bill wouldn’t have far-reaching effects.  I’m also not suggesting it won’t pass in some form, and soon.  (I said as much in a blog post last month.)    I just think that the ultimate outcome end up being the kind of middle-of-the-road legislation that ends up delighting nobody.  Already that sense of “have half” compromise seems to be present in the draft and further public comment and lobbying pressure will no doubt keep the pendulum from swinging too far one way or the other.

What I want to talk about in this column is what happens after this particular piece of middling legislation happens and what our industry’s response should and should not be.  What I hope we don’t do is wipe our collective brow and just go back to business as usual.  Whether the Boucher bill comes down hard or not, we as an industry have a problem.  For too long we’ve dismissed consumer privacy advocates as a fringe group.  But as we’ve learned from countless other movements, every issue has its season in the sun.  I would like to see us make consumer privacy a cause within the industry.  We should be acknowledging that there are bad actors in our midst and root out that behavior the way a great police force purges rogue cops.  We should challenge ourselves to truly justify each new level of targeting and data manipulation in terms of benefit to the consumer.  To do less than that is to miss the whole point of the current debate and simply invite even more draconian legislation later.

Now is the time to get our own house in order.  It’s not only the right thing to do morally, it’s the smart thing to do for the sustainability of the business.

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