August 22, 2018

Tied To The Tracks

In my newsletter Sunday, I republished a blog piece I wrote last week called "The Good In Online Advertising."

It was not (in my opinion) particularly provocative or much different from stuff I have been writing about for years. The thrust of the piece was pretty easy to understand -- online tracking is mostly bad and dangerous and we'd all be a lot better off without it.

My main point was that the issue of personal privacy in a democracy is a far more important matter than the (real or imagined) benefits of online tracking to advertisers.

Prof. Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) who has a huge Twitter following, picked up on a few points from the newsletter and tweeted them out. Suddenly a shitstorm of Twitter (twitstorm?) broke out.

If you have any interest in this matter I suggest you go back and read some of the threads. Here were the parts that were of most interest to me.

Almost without exception, those who disagreed with the post missed the point. Arguments were put forward that...
"targeting without tracking is entirely ineffectual"... "majority of the value in digital is tracking in some form, especially for media sites"... "then we are left with mass media, treating us all the same. No relevance"..."without tracking you can't optimize your targeting. This becomes extremely important when bidding on keywords in Google Ads." if the the great public policy issue of our time is the effectiveness of banner and search ads.

Not one of the "anti's" even bothered to consider the key question: What's more important the privacy rights of individuals or the convenience of marketers?

Tracking (particularly third party tracking) is clearly an intrusion on privacy, most often done without the knowledge or consent of the person being tracked. If you think the benefits of tracking are more important than the benefits of privacy, fine. Come out and say it. But don't hide behind obfuscation and misdirection and platitudes about the interests of online advertisers.

Unsurprisingly, as far as I could tell, virtually all of the tweets in praise of tracking came from people with some sort of ulterior motive -- either a commercial interest or an ideological commitment to defend.

As far as I am concerned, if someone decides they don't mind being tracked, and doesn't care about  having their personal information shared or sold to third parties, that's fine with me. Or if they are OK with one type of tracking but not another, that's also fine with me. But they should be given a clear and easily understood choice. Why in the world is this controversial?

I can't imagine how any intelligent person can believe that the convenience of marketers outweighs the privacy rights of individuals.

In my opinion there is no benefit to marketers - no matter how thrilling - that is even 1% as important as upholding the long-established principles of privacy in a democracy.

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