Governing the Internet, Targeting Edition

Josh GordonSome call it interference, some call it regulation, some call it guidance and some call it pointless. Whatever the perspective, it’s impossible to avoid government involvement in commerce, especially as it relates to the Internet. Occasionally I’ll try and provide some insight on how all levels of government, primarily Federal and State, are becoming increasingly involved with the Internet. Today’s topic is ad targeting.
A New York assemblyman, Richard Brodsky, is currently drafting and selling a bill in Albany that would make it a crime for Google, Microsoft, etc. to send targeted ads across the Internet using personal information about a consumer, without their consent. Under this proposed law, the crime will be punishable by an as yet to be determined fine.

While it’s clear that using personal information without a user’s authorization is not likely to be permitted, there is a great deal to discuss on this topic. Since is just the first post on this, I’ll limit it to the following two overarching issues.

First, there is a dangerous precedent here. If a state government were to pass a piece of legislation like this, it would become a de facto Federal law because there is currently no way to govern how the Internet is consumed by an individual user at the state level. That idea has several obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is that the Federal government generally doesn’t take too kindly to state governments superseding their purview. However, the debate likely will not end there; any road blocks from the state level will likely inspire greater levels of legislative creativity.

The other issue is this: When does governance verge on greed? The idea that a violation, of what promises to be a very convoluted law, would trigger a fine creates some issues about the law’s efficacy. Is this is a law that’s universally good and enforceable, or is it a government cash cow under the guise of protecting the public interest?

These two broad issues must be addressed. Ad targeting and consumer relevance are vitally important aspects of retail commerce on the Internet. If legislation is passed at the Federal level, then does the government have to fight the perception battle? Perhaps they don’t have to, but should they?


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  1. […] BT comes in all shapes and forms, today I’m speaking to the impact on affiliate networks. I previously discussed the New York state legislature’s plan to eliminate tracking technologies for consumers in their […]

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