The Data Issue Heats Up the Internet (984 words)
Privacy issues are contagious. The stir created by a perceived outrage in one medium can often spread to others like a virus, and lately the direct marketing industry is operating in a hot zone. When it comes to the collection and use of personal data, nowhere is hotter than the Internet.
As the online industry develops, the unique privacy standards that sprung up when the Web was still noncommercial have been challenged by both consumers and direct marketers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to debate the restrictive Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, but the push to regulate the Internet involves much wider issues than protecting children. In response to FTC recommendations and active lobbying, more than 300 members of Congress have sponsored or co-sponsored bills to regulate the Internet. While 40 bills currently wend their way through the legislative process, The DMA pushes self-regulation for adult privacy rights on the Internet. Without this immunization, the Internet may very well become the first victim in an outbreak of marketing prohibitions.
Raising the Stakes
"The industry needs to self-regulate," says Ben Isaacson, vice president, business development, at the Association for Interactive Media (AIM), a subsidiary of The DMA. "AIM has done a lot of work that highlights the efforts of organizations that post their privacy policies and work with consumers and users to make sure that they're aware of how that data is being used."
Says Regina Brady, vice president, interactive services, at Acxiom Corp., "I'm on the ethics policy committee for The DMA, and the consensus of our group is that when people talk to Internet marketers about privacy, they're talking to the wrong audience. People in the online world are more concerned about privacy than those of us who have been steeped in traditional media."
The gap between perception and reality may occur because the ease of online data collection sounds alarms among many consumers. On the Internet, marketers can collect and track demographic and behavioral information without consumers' knowledge or consent.