The free and independent Internet is at risk, from an unexpected threat positioned as protection of "online privacy," which may end up as no more
than giving unfair advantage to major media corporations. U.S. Congressman Rich Boucher
Virginia) is spearheading legislation couched as privacy protection which may result in the elimination of thousands upon thousands of small
independent websites, including AboveTopSecret.com.
Boucher, who is chair of the Subcommittee
on Communications, Technology, and the Internet
(and who is backed by a long-list of big-media dollars) is proposing legislation that will
effectively eliminate third-party ad networks as an option for small to mid-sized websites. Our contacts in the industry fear that, due to his hotly
contested re-election efforts, the proposed legislation will reach the house floor before the end of the year.
The essence of his proposal is to require websites such as ATS to first ask your permission before using any third-party cookies. This would mean that
sites like us could not display third-party ad networks until you opt-in with your approval. The end result would be a significant, if not complete,
drop in the only source of revenue for small independent websites.
While well-intended, the efforts are based on gross paranoia about cookies and personal information. The "behavioral targeting" being used by the
third part ad networks does not contain nor collects any personally-identifiable information. Instead, the collected information is used in an attempt
to deliver better ads, and reduce the amount of repeat ads you see. While there have been spotty abuses of unscrupulous companies, no one can point to
actual problems of privacy or personal information abuse of the ad networks... the fears are all based on worst-case speculation and "what-if"
What It Means
Devastation of the free and independent web.
There are thousands... perhaps hundreds-of-thousands... of small independent websites who all rely on modest to significant income from third-party ad
networks to pay the bills for their existence. And the ecosystem of support, from hosting companies to professional services vendors, that provide
various levels of service to the huge number of independent web publishers would similarly be demolished.
This issue extends far-beyond ATS to small free websites with Google ads and/or banners from the likes of ValueClick that provide just enough income
to pay for the hosting. Those free and independent voices, even those who are critical of us, could be silenced... and it's a travesty beyond
Why It Would Hurt Small Sites
The big media companies have the means to forge direct relationships with advertisers as well as manage their own ad servers... thereby bypassing the
issue of "third-party" ad networks and the related concerns of cookies. The proposed legislation would heavily favor these companies as online
advertisers would then have no option but to work directly with big-media websites.
On ATS, there are more than 1,200 different companies that advertise here in any given month. Eliminating the option of using a third-party ad network
would require us to attempt to engage every potential advertiser directly, and deploy our own ad-serving technology. That would be a task well-beyond
our means, and certainly out of the question for smaller sites.
The End Does Not Justify Means
No one will argue with the need to be concerned about the use of the data collected by online ad networks. There are just as many valid reasons for
concern as there are gross misrepresentations about the potential danger of cookies from third-parties.
However, in my opinion, this issue has become inappropriately politicized and spun such that legislation posed as privacy protection is nothing more
than a serious effort to shut-down the independent web in favor of the Internet efforts of big media. The wrong solution to a (mostly) imagined
What Can We Do?
I have been, and continue to be directly involved with various Internet advertising groups. My efforts are focused on representing the concerns of a
highly-viable and massive small business segment. From a commerce and business standpoint, this effort is important.
However, users of websites (YOU
) who are concerned about the possible loss of the independent web deserve to be noticed and heard. If we (ATS)
were to organize an online petition effort, would you support that?
Such a petition effort would cross the line of our stated principals of limiting advocacy within the borders of ATS, but I think this is a vitally
important issue of concern to our members and the thousands of small website on which you find inspiration. As such, before we engage in any petition
of Internet users, I thought it logical to bring it up to you for discussion and consideration.
Is this something we should do?
If you think it is, I will bring to bear all that I know to ensure your opinions are noticed in an independent
effort (not directly related to ATS) all users of the web could embrace.
The Government's Plan To Kill Independent Web Sites
House Bill Takes Aim At Web Privacy
A Call to Legislate Internet Privacy
Boucher, Perriello in cross hairs as GOP eyes 2010
Lawmakers, Inching Toward A Privacy Bill, Question 'Data-Mining
g out of data collection could drive down value of online ads, panel said
Consumer Privacy: Who Cares? Companies Will
Soon Find Out
Based on the overwhelming support of ATS members on this issue, we've completed and launched an information site, complete with links to a petition
and a service that emails our letters to the appropriate congressional representatives.
The Independent Web Is In Danger
Imagine a web without LOL Cats, Slash Dot, Boing Boing, AlterNet.org, and most of the other popular free web sites that offer a wealth of entertaining
and culturally important user-generated and user-directed content. A web where mainstream media and mega-sites dominate and control online content and
the opportunities for unconstrained free expression are all but eliminated from digital society. The concept of the "free web," in terms of both
free content and free expression, is under attack through proposed legislation disguised as initiatives to "protect online privacy."
If U.S. Congressman Rich Boucher has his way, the independent web will disappear. He is proposing legislation that will all-but eliminate the only
source of revenue for small and medium-sized websites, third-party Internet advertising networks. Couched as a "deep concern" for the potential of
privacy invasion, the proposed legislation is little more than a methodology by which to strangle the independent web, in favor of the very-large
websites from major media corporations.
The Proposed Legislation
In a nut-shell, the proposed legislation would require web site publishers to inform users of the use of third-party ad networks prior to displaying
any such ads. It is expected that users will choose to opt-in or out of receiving those ads prior to using the publisher's site. If a user takes no
action, the publisher is expected to assume the user wishes not to receive advertising from third-party sources. Since the overwhelming majority of
small-to-medium websites have no sales or advertising staff, the only viable source of operational revenue is these very same third-party ad networks.
The result will be a severe, if not total, loss of the revenue that pays for servers and technology, and the eventual death of the independent web.
Controlling Third-Party Ad Networks
No-one is arguing the point that we must establish clear rules (and laws if necessary) that restricts the use of the data collected by third-party ad
networks for the purpose of targeting Internet advertising. There are valid (if not speculative) concerns over the nature of the collected data and
the potential for abuse. However, no solution should result in favoring one segment online publishers, and certainly no solution should harm one of
the few growing areas of our fragile economy.
What Can Users Do?
We've set up several methods for you to take action and play a role in having our voices (users of the Independent Web) heard on Capitol Hill.
You can read about our service that enables you to immediately send emails to your representatives
that automatically selects the appropriate targets based on your home address.
Or you can learn about our online petition
which we admit may have limited direct effectiveness, but
can be an excellent awareness-building vehicle.
You may also link to us
to help spread the word about this effort on your own website, or the blogs and
discussion boards you visit.
[edit on 30-11-2009 by SkepticOverlord]