Friday, April 24, 2009

About "privacy policies" and blogs


Visitors should be aware of an industry document “Network Advertising Initiative: Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Preference Marketing by Network Advertisers” here.

Given economic conditions, the Internet industry is targeting ads more specifically by geographical area or sometimes by the analysis of tracking cookies, which may show an interest pattern, and sometimes by the presence of certain software on a computer, like Flash. As a result, online publishers are expected to provide more information to visitors who may want to opt out of certain practices. This has actually been the case since early 2008, although there has been little general awareness and almost no informal discussion of it in the blogging community.

While I don’t think that my blogs and sites will present any problems in actual practice, I’ve complied by placing privacy policies on each page. Generally speaking these are the same as the policies of almost any major media site (like a newspaper). However, laws in various countries as to specific additional policies can vary. A visitor in another country may have additional rights or restrictions. I’ve placed the “Privacy Policy” in a “gadget block” so that it appears at the bottom of the page, no matter what postings are viewed (adapted from this site; I had to reword some the language, changing plural “us” and “our” to grammatical singular, since I operate solo). I may consider a common link later. It's not yet completely clear to me what is the most ethical or proper way to put these notices on blogs (as compared to flat sites) as I can see some theoretical issues, at least. I think that this requirement raises the question of an “upward slippery slope.” Would it be logical to require bloggers to require login so that they know that visitors have agreed to the policy? How would you do that with a simple blog? Would it be logical to require that all such blogs be mapped to actual domains? Down the road, would it be logical to require insurance? (See this blog Sept. 25, 2008). This could take low-capital individuals out of the market of “free entry” blogging with some ad revenue. So often, a small change in the law or public policy could have major, unexpected repercussions.

I had previously believed that I did not need to state such a policy because I don’t currently require users to log on (as with passwords and security questions) or create accounts, and I don’t process any personal information at all (like credit cards); all my e-commerce is outsourced to other sites like Amazon and iUniverse. However, I do need to state a simple policy now given the current environment. I guess that's a bit of playing "brother's keeper."

A basic technical primer is here. I see that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is cautionary about this whole development in the marketing world, as with this link.

The visitor can read more about Google’s DoubleClick DART cookie here, and there are references there as to how to opt out of use.

In general, it’s important to remember that “Madison Avenue” is important to the Internet world of today. Even publishers that offer no ads (and some of my other sites and pages do not) are subsidized in a sense by those who do conduct business, and that is an important component of the “free entry” model common today (the other cornerstones of free entry are, of course, Section 230 and, like it or not, the DMCA Safe Harbor).

Many industries, especially in fashion (and especially in LGBT publications) are getting more mileage out of the technical and aesthetic quality of the advertisements. This holds also for motion picture trailers (although I get annoyed by DVD’s that make you take the time to watch previews from the distributor). There needs to be educational and real entertainment value in the advertisement itself for the whole business model to work.

Here's another resource, Privacy Choice (see comment).

1 comment:

Jim said...

It's great to see a publisher taking such a direct and open approach to informing users about tracking technologies and opt-out abilities.

You might also mention our privacychoice wizard, which allows you to opt-out of over 50 tracking networks with one click:
http://www.privacychoice.org

Comments and input most welcome!