Congressional Spyware Legislation

Yesterday, the IAB presented congress with an appeal to reconsider “spyware” legislation that would potentially hinder e-commerce and information exchange online.  Dave Morgan, who is the founder and chairman of TACODA and chairman of the IAB Public Policy Council was quoted by Online Media Daily as telling congress that “…the proposed “Spyware” legislation could curtail consumer choice and hinder a key economic engine to Web growth.” 

Obviously, as the founder of a behavioral targeting company whose entire foundation technical foundation is based on cookies, Dave is proactively concerned about this potential legislation.  And he should be.  This is a classic example of educating the audience, in this case congress.  In the past I have advocated against wasting too much time educating the masses, however, in this case I believe it to be a worthy fight.  Obviously we can’t have congress confusing the relevant advertising cookie with malicious spyware. 

So Dave and the IAB are charging forward in effort to make that clarification in front of this new congress starting with the hiring of its first lobbyist, Mike Zaneis.  Zaneis, is the former director of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade group representing 3 million businesses.  He fought to prevent lawmakers from stepping in to legislate in preference for getting industry groups to come together and fix data protection issues pertaining to credit card fraud.  He has the moxy and experience to help generate the support in congress, or at least educate key influencers in congress about the difference between beneficial technologies and malicious ones.

Something that I wonder about is where are the first party cookie beneficiaries in all of this?  Where are the site analytic companies and the retailers?  If the cookie gets legislated, they will not be protected from the restrictions that come with it.  A cookie will likely be generally classified as some sort of technology that is involuntarily placed on a user’s computer without their knowledge.  That means no more site-side analytics even with first party cookies (WebSideStory and now WebTrends).  That also means retailer cookies, bank cookies, stick portfolio cookies.  Anyone other than ad servers and networks who use their own domain to track, measure and target will likewise be impacted.

So why hasn’t the IAB engaged these groups as well.  A coalition of the retail industry would have a HUGE impact.  The involvement of financial institutions, major magnitude.  Bring in the horsepower of Yahoo!, MSN and AOL and their cookie-based tracking and you have mega-lobbyists at the door of congress.  The IAB doesn’t need to do this alone.  And Gavin O’Malley of MediaPost is right, this is a great time to be educating a new receptive congress.

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