Oh boy. The Open Data Partnership puts themselves forward as a self-regulated solution for personal data and online privacy. They claim to be a “market-wide collaboration that allows consumers to gain more control over the information that companies have collected about their interests in one easy-to-use portal.” SmartPlanet has quoted Mike Zaneis, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB):
Better Advertising’s Open Data Partnership is exactly the kind of initiative that will enable us to remain self-regulated as an industry. The more transparency we can provide consumers that enables them to retain control over their own data, the more trusted our ecosystem becomes – to the benefit of everyone.
This proposal assumes several key points, including these:
- economics defines the moral imperative for managing society,
- the marketing and advertising industries are the default economic framework going forward,
- these industries are fair arbiters and safe handlers of “consumer data” and that they know what the well-being of “consumers” is all about, and
- this industry will be successful and unified at self-regulation.
Big assumptions. Ones we don’t share.
Economics is important, but checks and balances are more important. Overexuberant industrialists and financiers have repeatedly shown they will take whatever they can get away with, even when it harms individuals and society at large. Marketing and advertising in moderation can improve our quality of life, but given free rein, marketers have repeatedly exploited and manipulated the unwary and unsophisticated.
As far as self-regulation, that isn’t promising either. So far, there’s not a lot of industry buy-in and there are few self-regulation success stories we can point to for inspiration. MPAA movie ratings, perhaps. Others have cited the fraud prevention and protection practices of Visa and Mastercard… but the fact is the credit card industry is one of the most heavily regulated.
Instead of hoping the wolves can be trusted to guard the hen house–because they too hope to enjoy eating the hens for a long time to come–we need an approach based on the fundamental morality of individual liberty. We need a solution for the people, by the people.
In contrast, Evidon is for the advertisers, by the advertisers. Consider their language:
- The Open Data Partnership helps us give them more.
- Give consumers a snapshot of the interest information that you’ve collected about them
- You own the data… we’re a distribution mechanism for users to opt-out, opt-in, and/or manage how you categorize them
Us verses them. Again and again.
Evidon does offer a consumer profile manager portal to let us manage our relationships. Go look at it. They call this managing a relationship? Wow. Maybe we’re old school, but a relationship is a lot more than just a few checkboxes for guesses about my interests.
Even as a tool for “increasing accountability and transparency”, the profile manager is a weak offering. Where did they come up with this information? Who have they given it to? What ads have been shown to me in response and where were did those ads appear? Evidon isn’t transparency, it’s whitewashing.
The Digital Advertising Alliance is powered by Evidon and DoubleVerify is built on top of both. All three claim to give consumers “choice and control”. But they don’t. In fact, it’s almost impossible to tell who is doing what with whose data. That isn’t transparency. It’s obfuscation.
The framework remains us vs. them. They win, we lose, despite the rhetoric.
None of these efforts is about helping individuals or even about building a better, more efficient, more moral system. It’s about barely starting to do what they should have been doing from the beginning: respect the innate rights of individuals to control their person and their domain. We’re glad they are finally realizing that they’ve been behaving badly, but it’s a tiny shuffle in the right direction.
As Christopher Locke famously said in the Cluetrain Manifesto:
we are not seats or eyeballs or end-users or consumers. we are human beings – and our reach exceeds your grasp.
deal with it.
Clearly, Evidon isn’t dealing with it. Until we have a solution—self-regulated or not—that can deal with people as human beings, we don’t have a solution.