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3 things about the privacy debate that don't matter

3 things about the privacy debate that don't matter Tom Hespos

We are about to have privacy regulations rammed down our throats by the U.S. federal government. Whether or not these regulations deal a crushing blow to the digital ad industry, or they merely result in a handful of minor inconveniences, largely depends on the extent to which we step up as an industry.

With legislation looming, however, I see a lot of very smart people spending a good deal of time debating things that aren't going to affect decisions a whole lot. We need to focus. In order to do so, we need to identify the things that don't matter and stop talking about them in the ever-expanding echo chamber that is the digital ad industry.

The first thing that matters not a lick? Whether or not the mainstream media gets it right on the first try.

Much has been written about the first in a series of articles concerning tracking, which came from The Wall Street Journal. We criticize the journalism, we reveal potential conflicts of interest and question how they could have gotten the story so wrong. We tear it apart line by line and completely forget that this is all part of the process of modern journalism. The notion that somebody in the mainstream media is going to get their facts 100 percent correct on an incredibly complex technology story is ludicrous, particularly after we've seen what digital did to newspapers.

We lament the death of accurate tech journalism, but our big takeaway should be that this issue is exceptionally difficult to understand if you're not a technologist. This should scare the heck out of everyone because it should be your big tip-off to the notion that the federal government probably won't get its facts 100 percent correct, either.

The Journal barely scratched the surface with this first article. I'm skeptical it'll even bring up any of the deeper issues, but none of that really matters, does it? Our challenge is getting non-technologists to understand how we do what we do.

The second thing we ought not to waste our time on? Talking about what the offline DM industry does. It's interesting to note that web users don't spend as much time or effort fighting against the arguably more invasive data collection in traditional direct mail as they do against data collection on the web. And that's all it is -- interesting. We've known for more than 10 years that there's a double standard at work. Continuing to complain about how unfair it is didn't work the first time. I doubt it's likely to work this time.

The third thing? The finer details. Don't get me wrong -- I think it's important for us to have our facts straight, down to the minute detail. It's just that the people making the decisions, and the consumers who are pushing them to do so, don't care. They're not going to care about your elegant solution to marrying a cookie to a measure of someone's creditworthiness without using PII. They're only going to care about the data you have and whether they think it's too intrusive for marketers to have that data, not about how crafty you were in obtaining it without violating the sanctity of PII. The finer details of these methods are what we care about as marketers, not what the consumer cares about.

Let's not waste a minute more in the mistaken belief that these things will actually matter when it comes to legislating online privacy.

Tom Hespos is the chairman and president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com.

On Twitter? Follow Tom at @THespos1 or @_MarketingLLC. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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