Last week, the government published its ideas as to how it would implement the changes to EU Directive 2002/58/EC. In relation to spammers and behavioural advertising it has decided to keep the low privacy standards that were acceptable to the previous New Labour government. The changes discussed in the consultation (pdf) are …
What a palaver ...
There is one rule: I pay for my end of the link, you pay for yours. The rest is piddling little details. It's been true since before TCP/IP ...
At first I started casually scanning this article, then I went back and started reading it properly, because I could actually understand it! I now know scads more about the problem than I did previously.
Well written - well done.
Interesting article - I assume that the salient points will be included in a response to the consultation? It does not close until 3 December (and there is no requirement to use their form).
I was looking at one of the Annexes to see who the consultation has been sent to, in order to see who else might like to be alerted to this point; the list looks a little strange - I would have thought the Information Commissioner would be included. Oh well ...
It would be interesting to read this analysis if the author had more than a one-dimensional concern. As it stands, he so obviously only cares about "enhanced" privacy measures that he is looking to make hay out of even the slightest differences in wording or omissions.
Perhaps the most important part of this article is the sentence "Of course one can argue that an enhanced privacy protective option might be judged to harm economic activity but that position should form part of the informed debate."
The obvious problem with that sentence is that everyone in the industry KNOWS the answer to that point a priori - it is not a debate. Online media competes with all other media in the marketplace, and without the ability to target that media then it becomes much, much less attractive and thus less profitable. Selling non-targeted ads is not a very viable business case, the rates are simply too low (sometimes only a quarter of what targeted ad rates are). So sites that rely upon advertising to be free to the public (i.e., non-subscription) need targeting to STAY free to the public. The only other option is conversion to pay-for-play sites, which most users do NOT want.
Anyone who doubts the veracity of this need only look at the "profitability" of ad supported sites - most of them, even some very large and well-known sites, are not very profitable, even with targeting as it exists today. What is needed is better targeting (while maintaining confidentiality), not more restrictions.
But back to the question - why no public debate? Because frankly a debate along the lines of the one above will NEVER be settled by 2011 - the public privacy advocates will never back down from their "privacy at any cost" line of argument, and those needing to make a profit from building a web site will always hew to their need for profitability and thus targeting.
The current consultation merely recognizes this, and says let's simply do something practical in the middle ground...
@Robert Hill - disintermediation is an alternative for some sites
"So sites that rely upon advertising to be free to the public (i.e., non-subscription) need targeting to STAY free to the public. The only other option is conversion to pay-for-play sites, which most users do NOT want."
The Reg demonstrates an alternative. Despite Adblock I can still see an ad for a broadband provider, which is embedded in the page (and from which a greater proportion of revenue presumably goes directly to the proprietors rather than to an intermediary).
It's true that some smaller or less focused sites might suffer if targeting were to be hampered, but the scrape/recycle/sensationalise sites that have proliferated, apparently with the single or main purpose of generating traffic and advertising revenue, would suffer more. Both advertisers and the browsing public would be better off if some of these were less profitable.
'Economic activity' which does little other than to draw money form one group of people to another smaller group disbenefits the majority and doesn't actually generate real wealth.
Get it right. ConDems!
A modest proposal
The simple and obvious fix is to extend the Telephone Preference service to cover all electronic UCM and change the enabling legislation, if necessary, to make sure it can enforce compliance. If enforcement meant fines this would generate a new revenue stream for the Treasury, so the Coalition should be all for it.
Andy Yates, Co-Founder of Spam Ratings
Very interesting article and discussion. My view is that email marketing, and indeed all forms of marketing, are all about transparency and consent.
If websites treat internet users fairly and openly by laying the options before them, letting them know what they intend to do and giving them a choice then they can help their businesses - not harm them.
As an example at www.SpamRatings.com we have just carried out detailed research that shows that more than half of 100 top UK brands breach current email best practice guidelines as outlined by the Information Commissioner's Office (the data protection UK authority) and the DMA - the marketing industry's own trade association.
In other words self regulation is clearly not working as short term economic pressure leads to websites bombarding customers with unwanted and unasked for emails.
The result - all this does is make customers reach more quickly for the delete button when they see emails from these 'trusted' brands - at once killing their future email marketing effort and damaging their brand and reputation.
When will websites learn they need to be more responsible with our private email address and our privacy? If they can't clean up their act themselves then we at Spam Ratings support legislation that will force them to act honestly and fairly with internet users and customers.
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