Targeted Online Advertising: What’s the Harm & Where Are We Heading?

The Internet and mobile communications has made reaching out to other people so much easier. Thanks to the rapid advance of technology, reaching another person is at the tip of everyone’s fingertips. This has proven to be a boon for advertising videos but not everybody is cheering. Some privacy advocates have been asking for some government regulation to protect consumers and users.

Regulators should think twice about imposing more stringent guidelines as this could kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Berin Szoka, in his article ‘Targeted Online Advertising: What’s the Harm & Where Are We Heading?’ declares government regulation poses a danger to the health of the Internet. Government regulation will stifle the advertising video industry which is the economic engine that has ‘supported a flowering of creative expression and innovation of online content and services says Szoka. He however acknowledges that concerns of privacy advocates have to be addressed and he proposes a technology based solution to help keep the balance between privacy, regulation and economic concerns.

Self-regulatory efforts (by websites and ad networks) can be refined, especially through technological innovation. For instance, Szoka says, if websites and ad networks supplemented their current “natural language” privacy policies with equivalent “machine- readable” code, that data could be “read” by browser tools that would implement pre-specified user preferences. However, this system would only work if users realize and make real choices about paying for “free” content by disclosing their personal information.

Privacy sensitive users are free to keep out of whatever tracking they find objectionable, but according to Szoka, this will come with a price. “The less data they agree to share, the less content and services they can fairly expect to receive for free,” Szoka says. This means users might not be able to access certain sites, content and functionality without watching extra untargeted ads or paying for such content. “There is no free lunch,” Szoka adds.

For the moment, authorities are resisting calls for more regulation, and Szoka agrees that this is the right move. Keeping the Internet “free and open” requires preserving the economic engine that makes it so.