Can we legislate our way to a more transparent Web? - SmartBrief

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Can we legislate our way to a more transparent Web?

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Every year or so, we all get a “War and Peace”-length packet from our credit card companies.  These “manuals,” required by federal law, explain to consumers in great detail how their fees, rates and rewards work, but most people treat them like  junk mail.

The more information our government requires banks to share, the lesser the chances of us actually reading (let alone comprehending) it. Should I read this information? Yes. Do I? Let’s just say I have a lot of catching up to do.

Today’s lead story in SmartBrief on Social Media gives us a peek at a draft bill from Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., that may just make a consumer’s Web experience similar to our credit card experience. The bill will require publishers, advertisers and other companies that collect data about people online to notify them about the practice and obtain their consent.

What takes the proposal to the next level is the provision that will force publishers that collect data to serve targeted ads on their own sites to allow consumers to opt out of the targeting.  Mike Zaneis, vice president of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, brings us a point that I think is worth reflecting upon. He (and the IAB) hopes that any proposal “will not be overly proscriptive, but rather allow industry the flexibility to innovate and discover new and more effective ways of providing consumer notice.”

Here at SmartBrief, our model is a little different, because we are primarily looking to sign people up for a free e-mail  newsletter. At signup, the user knows what fields they are filling in — but we still try and make it clear that we do not sell, rent or share our lists in any way. We do so in our own language, explaining that to deliver you the best content, and to keep our service free, we need some details about you.  In our opinion, that clarity and transparency in data gathering has helped SmartBrief catapult to the 3 million subscriber mark. We’re not perfect, but we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create a level of trust with our readers — and we believe it is a distinct competitive advantage.

If the government were to step in and create a mandatory process or script for publishers, advertisers, etc., how will the reader know who to trust? The rise of social media has helped readers, publishers and advertisers understand one another better. In this new environment,  transparent, reputable and trustworthy businesses have benefited, while those using sketchy practices are getting exposed and pushed out.

The origin of fine print had perfectly good intentions, but what’s buried in those tiny fonts are often the details that we miss. If a reputable publisher is required by law to include seven paragraphs of opt-out privacy information, will we notice if a sketchy website includes an eighth paragraph promising our first-born?

Is legislation the path to a more secure and transparent Web, or is social media already blazing that path?

Image credit, jabiro, via iStockphoto