It would be a mistake for Congress to prohibit targeted advertising online

The Internet has democratized access to information and delivered a dazzling array of free online services, like search, news, maps, and social media. But imagine a world where the next time you use a search engine, instead of seeing results, you see a requirement to enter a credit card. Or the next time you visit USA Today there is fewer content and even more ads on the screen.

In this alternate world, you are bombarded with pop-ups and interstitials, all of which are asking for consent in various ways: blanket consent for use of all “sensitive” information, consent for use of some sensitive information, consent for use of sensitive and non-sensitive information, and so on.

It’s hard to argue that this world would be an improvement for user experience, much less user privacy.

Nonetheless, this troubling future could become a reality if Congress passes the “BROWSER Act” – legislation that requires online websites and services to get affirmative consent from users before serving any ads based on their interests. The proposed legislation would create a nightmare “opt-in regime for interest-based ads.”

READ MORE at The Hill

Catch the Criminals – Don’t Pass the Buck

When a crime is committed it’s the criminal that is responsible.  But some in Congress think that since capturing cyber-criminals is challenging we should hold online services accountable.  That’s like holding Ford accountable for making the car a bank-robber uses.

But that didn’t stop the attempts by Sen. McCain to assign false blame at today’s Senate hearing on a threat to consumers called “malvertisements” — when a cyber-criminal injects malware into an online ad and then misleads an ad network into displaying the contaminated ad.

I appreciated the shift in focus from privacy to security as threats to consumers’ security pose real harms.  Unfortunately, the hearing was more about trying to assign liability rather than talking about catching the criminal perpetrators of this new form of malware. Read more

Spring 2014 iAWFUL List – Consumers in the Crosshairs

Twice a year, the team releases an updated iAWFUL list. The list provides a concise collection of both active and proposed legislation that would present a significant non-market barrier to Internet commerce.

This year’s list is full of legislative efforts run amok. As legislators and regulators fall over themselves in a race to regulate Internet services, many are doing more harm than good. In many cases unfamiliarity with technology or misinformation is driving action.

Data breaches and privacy concerns have whipped elected officials into action, but as the 2014 iAWFUL list finds, elected officials are making things worse. Read more

On Privacy EU says to US, ‘You Cannot Escape’

Proposed as a ”group hug” on privacy principles between the EU and US, last week’s EU Privacy Event instead turned into an EU mandate to the US, “Our way or the highway.”  This sentiment was capstoned when Francoise Le Bail, a representative of the European Commission, said that the US “cannot escape” the EU privacy rules.

For example, we asked the EU representatives if they would respect the outcome of our multi-stakeholder process.  Jacob Kohnstamm of the Dutch Data Protection Authority said that even if the stakeholders agreed that the default for interest-based advertising is opt-out, the EU would not accept it.  And Paul Nemitz of the European Commission would dismiss those results since a multi-stakeholder process is not necessarily a product of the people. Read more

Leaving Dishes in the Sink

Boy, that was a great party the White House threw today when their new online privacy rights were unwrapped and passed around.

Most everyone hefted their shiny new rights, agreed they were nice, and talked about the need for swift adoption.  But when the party was done, everyone filed out, turning a blind eye to the post-party cleanup and a sink full of dirty dishes.

In this case, the dirty dishes aren’t baked-on casserole pans.  What’s left in the sink is the messy “multi-stakeholder” process that will decide the details about how to implement and enforce these new privacy rights. Read more

Google Search: Now Starring Google+

For more than a decade, the Holy Grail for Internet marketers has been to find some way to improve their rankings in Google’s search algorithm. Now, thanks to Google’s new social search feature, anyone can grab hold of this once-elusive prize…just as long as they have a Google+ account.

If you’ve done a Google search recently, you’ve probably noticed the search engine’s nifty new feature. Just to the right (and sometimes indented below) your search results is a prominently featured panel featuring relevant social media listings related to your search.

A search for “sports”, for instance, might return a social listing for soccer star David Beckham; “politics” might yield a social link for Newt Gingrich, and “cooking” might get you the latest from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It’s a thoughtful and timely functionality, clearly developed in response to the increasing role that the Social Web plays in business, politics, and interpersonal communications.

But there is a tiny catch. Read more

Auto Dealers: Time To Take the Wheel

In every market touched by the Internet, traditional business models have had to adapt or die.  Especially where sellers had been able to make big markups based on information asymmetry and control of local distribution.  They were astounded when Internet-savvy consumers came in with their own data on quality, costs and prices.  And they agonized when new online competitors from faraway places emerged to challenge their local market dominance.

Market middlemen who cling to old ways are headed for the dustbin of business history.  Just consider a few examples:

  • Online travel sites lifted the curtain on the mysterious world of booking airline seats and hotel rooms.  Travel agents who add real value for customers are soaring, but those who just book flights have crashed and burned.
  • Optometrists used to make big bucks marking-up contact lenses to their patients.  But those markups disappeared in the blink of an eye once consumers could buy their lenses online. Optometrists who saw this coming focused on their services and helped patients find the best deals on lenses.
  • Ticket brokers who believe they alone should control secondary markets for sports and concert seats are finding themselves on sidelines as ticket holders turn to the Internet to sell seats they can’t use.
  • Real estate agents are finding fewer homeowners are still willing to pay a $30,000 commission to sell a $500,000 home, especially when Internet-savvy buyers do most of their own legwork using online real estate sites.

Now, the Internet is happening to auto dealers too. Read more

Using the Internet to Lower the New Car Haggling Hassle

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]e all love the smell of a new car, but hate the haggling element of the car buying process.  But now, new online tools and services are making it possible for you to buy a car online without doing the in-store haggle.

But, like the wine industry, the eye contacts industry, and the real-estate industry, entrenched legacy interests are trying to stop you from using the internet to save money and get better products.  But the irony is, the internet is actually helping car dealers make sales while helping consumers feel better about their purchase: a win-win.

Because of the internet more people have more access to more information than at any other time in history.  Now, instead of relying on a dealer to tell you the price, websites and services like,, and provide you with lots of information about the cost of a new car and recent car sales.  This makes you a more informed consumer when you buy a car.

This change of information asymmetry is great for you, but can scare some legacy interests.  Legacy interests, who are adverse to any change in the way they do business.

For example, from the earliest days of the automobile until now, haggling has been a fixture of the retail car buying experience.  Lengthy price negotiations where the information available to you, especially relating to price, came from a single source, the salesman you met on the lot.  This created an image of the car-buying process that persists in almost everyone’s head.  Eventually, a simple truth emerged; remove haggling from the equation, give you more information and price confidence, and a new era could be born.  A new era with positive benefits for you and the dealers.

Now, that era is upon us.  Consumers are turning to websites like TrueCar to help eliminate the hassle of the haggle. Read more

Giants Standing on NetChoice’s Shoulders to See the Impact of EU Regulations

The notion of standing on the shoulders of giants is often referenced.

At a Congressional hearing this past Thursday, academic giants stood on NetChoice’s shoulders to bolster their arguments against the US’s adoption of EU regulations by citing NetChoice’s analysis.

The Congressional Subcommittee convened this hearing to discuss how the EU privacy laws impact the US and whether the US should mirror the EU. Read more