Going online and going mobile has become a creepy experience with companies tracking your movements: virtually and in-person. There is something disturbing about for example web ads for companies that one does business with (or the case of biz journalists, one covers) when they appear on general newspaper sites. Including when one is mobile and is at home. Equally disturbing are ads from one’s own country displaying on a site belonging to a firm in another. And you thought CBP was alone in tracking foreign "travel".
The corporate “Nasty Sister”—the evil sibling to what is in retrospect a more benign government “Big Brother”-- is indeed following us. She is demanding that we pay attention to her in the hopes that we give her what she wants i.e. money and more importantly our information.
Companies that act as Nasty Sisters don’t get it. They risk ticking off the very people they do business with. And in doing so can harm customer loyalty that keeps marketing costs down through retention rather than spending resources on continually attempting to acquire replacements: which are scarce in today’s slow economy.
These outfits are in denial that in today’s Web 2.0/social media age the customers are in charge—not them--and they will decide how, when and what to buy and will make their opinions known to the world that others will pay attention to. Haven’t corporations learned the lessons of Do Not Call et al? IOW “don’t bug the buyers”.
(Hello marketers: your parents'/grandparents' “Mad Men” age of assuming the consumers are stupid and full of cash is over. Get used to it.)
The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011, introduced by Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will if it remains largely intact through the legislative process, make the web less creepy by empowering consumers to tell the corporate “Nasty Sisters” to quit following them.
The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 would, says a release:
* Create a universal legal obligation for all online companies to honor consumer choice when consumers do not want anyone to collect information about their online activities
* Allow the Federal Trade Commission to pursue enforcement action against any company that does not honor this request by consumers
* If consumers ask not to be tracked, allow companies to collect only the information that is necessary for the website or online service to function and be effective, but then place a legal obligation on the online company to destroy or anonymize the information once it is no longer needed
More legislation is in the works. The release said that the Sen. Rockefeller’s committee is also working on comprehensive legislation to increase cybersecurity following scores of high-profile hacking incidents against individuals, government and the private sector.
“Consumers have a right to know when and how their personal and sensitive information is being used online—and most importantly to be able to say ‘no thanks’ when companies seek to gather that information without their approval,” said Rockefeller. “This bill will offer a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their every move on the Internet.”
Predictably the Direct Marketing Association, reflecting the wishes of its members, has come out to oppose Do Not Track saying it is unnecessary because of industry self-regulation, that it will cost businesses and hurt consumers and the economy.
The DMA points to its Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, launched by the DMA and four other leading trade associations last year. It says the Rockefeller bill fails to recognize this strong and effective self-regulatory program, instead calling for a massive government program to provide protections that industry already offers to consumers.
“The DMA and its thousands of member companies have spent countless hours and considerable resources developing a system to provide real and meaningful choice to consumers about the way their information is collected and used across the Internet,” said DMA CEO Lawrence Kimmel in a press release. “I can say with certainty that business is safeguarding consumers’ privacy without any cost to taxpayers while protecting the economic interests of all Americans.”
This is a boilerplate argument against any such legislation and it has the same holes no matter what issue it is applied against. Namely that there are many firms that don’t belong to associations like the DMA et al and do not abide by their principles and practices and that outfits members and nonmembers alike who will be tempted to ignore them because the short-term money is too tempting. Just think of the brave but futile attempts to ward off Do Not Call like the ATA’s much-vaunted TeleWatch program announced with fanfare in October 1999: undermined by the teleservices companies that would whine when regulations were later imposed on them.
Sen. Rockefeller’s bill has another benefit: it may ward off state legislation, like California’s Senate Bill 761, (which Facebook and Google are reportedly not too keen about, according to a KEYT.com story). Does industry really want yet another lawyer-enriching patchwork of state laws or would it prefer a comprehensive federal law?
Do-Not-Track Online is not perfect. It should be made opt-in. It also needs companion legislation prohibiting tracking wireless devices, enforced by the FCC, unless consumers also opt-in.
Opt-in is better than opt-out because it gives consumers respect through giving them control over their behavior. Asking is someone first is always nicer,--and will result in a more positive, productive relationship--than telling them you’re going to do something unless they say no.
The corporate “Nasty Sisters” needs a smack: just as the teleservices industry was asking for it with too many unwanted calls, abandoned calls and pushy agents.
Do Not Call didn't kill but instead it helped shape up the teleservices industry, making telemarketing less of an annoyance and instead more of an assistance to consumers. For example outbound calls both live agents and automated has become a boon to customers and the firms they do business with through notifying them of service issue. Do-Not-Track-Only will do just that for Internet firms and advertisers. There will be similar ways found to make tracking--through permission—helpful. And that is good news for companies that truly want to have meaningful, prosperous relationships with customers.
Customer relationships are—and should be—based on honesty and respect. Tailing and bugging customers is not how you keep and build them. Listening to them, letting them dictate how they do business with companies is how you accomplish this.