Randall Rothenberg: December 2010 Archives

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The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission has finally come clean. After all the pushing and pulling about consumer privacy, he has spilled the beans on what really irks him about the Internet: He doesn’t like cookies. Recently, on C-SPAN’s The Communicators, FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz, in dismissing our argument that the Commission’s push for browser controls over data would involve the “re-architecting” of the World Wide Web, described the IAB as a “lobbying organization for companies that like to put third-party cookies in consumers’ computers, so they’re doing what they do.”

Then last week, Chairman Leibowitz indicated he had inside knowledge about the inner workings of the interactive industry. “There is a schism brewing within the Internet advertising community and perhaps even within the IAB” on the subject of third parties, he told The Huffington Post.

Actually, the FTC Chair doesn’t know the half of it. The IAB is indeed a lobbying organization—not just for companies that place third party cookies on peoples’ computers, but for every major first-party publisher on the Internet as well—from the A&E Television Network to Zillow.com, with several hundred in-between. And I assure you, there is no schism within the IAB when it comes to cookies and their crucial role in the architecture of the Internet. Just to make sure, we asked them. Here is what a cross-section of IAB members told us cookies allow them to do for their advertisers and their consumers:

“First and foremost, cookies allow Univision dot com to capture and analyze information on our users interests thus guiding our content creation and web site navigation so our users find the information and content they seek and enjoy.”

      - Jim L’Heureux, Univision.com

“AOL uses cookies to remember things for our users, such as location for weather information; with advertising, we’ll use cookies to limit the amount of times the same ad is shown to a person.”

      - Chuck Gafvert, AOL

“Third-party cookies allow me to employ four people and I’m hiring 10 more. How many businesses are you aware of in this economy doing that? They also allow me to deliver highly targeted solutions, in the form of quality products and service providers, to the 55,000 consumers that visit my AsktheBuilder.com site each day.”

      - Tim Carter, AskTheBuilder.com

“Cookies allow us to ensure that consumers receive relevant and customized ads without the use of personally identifiable information.”

      - Chris Pirrone, Traffic Marketplace Display

“If it were not for cookies, our registered users would have to enter their log-in and password every time they come to our websites and try to access valued content. Imagine having to do so several times a day after reading your favorite newsletters and trying to access some research, white papers, profile settings and more.”

      - Carine Roman, ZiffDavisEnterprise.com

“Using HTTP cookies, we can calculate: Total audience size, audience turnover, user frequency histogram over a period of time, user lifetime histogram, day-to-day audience overlap and site-to-site audience overlap”

      - Michael Griffiths, SpotXchange.com

“Cookies are an important core Internet browser technology, comparable to your barber recognizing you each time you visit, that enables sites like ours to efficiently deliver a growing suite of services based on the ability to know and remember our users between visits.”

      - Bill Irvine, TheAboveNetwork.com

“Cookies enable us to keep content and advertising relevant to consumers both in terms of content and timing, and they ensure the delivery of this content and advertising without compromising anyone’s privacy.  Unlike traditional media, interactive media need not know a consumer’s name, address, or credit card information to deliver the right content at the right time.  That’s what cookies enable.”

      - Jay Habegger, OwnerIQ.com

“Cookies enable my website to provide timely and useful information to expectant moms during pregnancy and beyond.”

      - Neil Street, BabyNamesGarden.com

“Media6Degrees delivers offerings for advertisers to the people who will respond best to them. To do this we purchase media from publishers across the Internet in a manner which would be impossible without using 3rd-party cookies to identify the audiences that our advertisers are interested in addressing. In addition, we rely on 3rd-party cookies to control the flow of advertisements which provides a better user experience by limiting the number of times an individual sees a particular advertisement.”

      - Alec Greenberg, Media6Degrees.com

“Cookies allow me to reach the users who like to play games and connect them to my game site and applications. I am disabled, and thanks to the internet and cookies I am able to support myself and my family and stay off of Social Security and welfare.”

      - Katherine Girod, iGames4Fun.net

“Cookies allow me to provide a better experience to my visitors by storing their preferences and using them as they navigate through my website. This helps them to avoid constant inconveniences of providing their preferences on every page.”

      - Amol Vyavhare, ArticlesWave.com

“Cookies help me operate the world’s best website on defense and security issues.”

      - John Pike, GlobalSecurity.org

“We would be unable to provide these FREE services or feed our families without the use of cookies.  They allow us to provide a better customer experience to our viewers, which could not be done without cookies.”

      - Andy Robinowitz, SocialKnowledge.net 

“Cookies help me get my products in front of the customers who actually want to buy our products, thereby assuring our business continues to grow and provide employment opportunities to the community.”

      - Richard Sexton, CarolinaRustica.com

“Since my site is geographically specific, local advertisers can have their messages appear on the site where the largest potential customer base exists. Without the cookies used in serving banner ads, this process would go away, and possibly prevent those messages from reaching the target audience. The cookies make what is delivered to online reader relevant.

      - Perry Klaussen, Hoboken411.com

“Cookies allow me to create a better user experience for my website, making it easier for my readers to access information quickly and efficiently, plus be a bigger part of the community.”

      - Jon Berlinghoff, EventHubs.com

“Cookies allow us tailor information that helps them use our site much more efficiently.”

      - Greg Brown, VideoPoker.com

“Cookies enable my community to exist as a free and streamlined platform for individuals to discuss prescription drugs with one another.”

      - Nick Jabbour, PrescriptionDrug-Info.com

“Cookies allow me to deliver advertising in an effective manner and that allows me to make a living and provide a valuable service to my readers at no charge.”

      - Ron Lemon, RealityTVCalendar.com

“Cookies allowed me to build the best place online for people to find more information about parenting and how to get your child into acting without being taken advantage of.”

      - Steve Shurak, ParentMediaInc.com

“Our community uses cookies to manage personal logins across three travel sites which feature expert reviews, trip blogs, or forum Q&As, allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about their next family vacation destination.”

      - Kyle McCarthy, FamilyTravelForum.com

“I prefer patronizing a store that knows me and recommends something they know I’ll like versus an impersonal store that recommends whatever they’ve got on the shelf. Happily, cookies allow that same familiarity and make the web a friendlier and more relevant place to shop.”

      - John Knapp, BrashInsight.com

“Cookies let my customers access their private data securely without having to log in again every time.”

      - John Manoogian, 140proof.com

“Part of my business model is utilizing affiliate advertising which realizes on the honest use of cookies to generate revenue. We serve our dedicated customers by providing quality content and provide ways to purchase products and services through our affiliates.”

      - Jason E. Renda, OutdoorInformer.com

We’re publishing these comments—many of them from independent entrepreneurs whose “long tail” retail and ad-supported sites would not be possible without the use of cookies and other core elements of the Internet’s infrastructure—because we think the Government is engaging in unfortunate game-playing.

We are not refuting, contradicting or picking at the FTC’s concern for consumer privacy on the ad-supported Internet. Indeed, we are as passionate about it as the Federal Government and the so-called “privacy advocacy groups.” We support vigorous FTC enforcement of privacy regulations and the pursuit of violators, and we appreciate the FTC’s continuing support for industry self-regulation as the most effective means for assuring that consumer privacy rights and expectations are honored.

Here’s where we part ways: The IAB believes with equal passion that the ability to advertise legal products and services is central to the functioning of a capitalist economy, and an essential support structure for the news media that underpin American democracy. And we find abject attacks on whole categories of technology a form of technological McCarthyism that has little place in a sophisticated debate about how best to protect consumers and companies together.

We welcome the opportunity to bring technology experts from IAB member companies to the Commission to discuss it with them, rather than politic it on cable TV.

Randall Rothenberg is President & CEO of the IAB