AdWeek Conference: Point/Counterpoint New York City, 2000

AdWeek Conference: Point/Counterpoint


Between A Rock and a Hard Spot: Online Profiling- Value vs Harm

by Elaine Morris Palmer            October, 2000

On my way to 8th annual Fall Internet World at the Javits Convention Center on 38th Street and 11th Ave. in NYC, I passed a rather humorous, if telling, poster pasted to the side of a construction scaffold that  said “, the sequel…because Fashion never dies.”

And neither does the forward movement of Internet technology. The mood here attests to that. Over 1,000 exhibitors and ten thousand visitors are estimated to have crowded the conference and seminars last week. Internet diehards, buyers, sellers and even newbies.

The Internet is a live and well. The over 2,ooo press came to write about something. Steve Wright-Mark of Schwartz PR, the company that manages the press core can attest to that.

Regardless of .com comings and goings, the big issue for those still in the game is privacy. What are the ground rules for communicating with our customers and with others about them? AdWeek Conferences’ Point/Counterpoint session gave us the chance to hear all the sides of this multifaceted argument. Jason Catlett, nationally known privacy advocate and Founder and President of Junkbusers, the company that produces that pesky ad blocking product along with helping people get rid of junk faxes spam and telemarketing calls believes customer profiling can hurt customer confidence.

He’s favors regulations for ad networks, like his opponent’s (Double Click network), who can “stalk” consumers without their consent. He believes the added value of a product or service is not inversely proportionate to parent companies perpetrating irresponsible privacy violations.

Jules Polonetsky, Chief Privacy Officer at Double Click Network sits on the Consumer Privacy Advisory Board, an independent board of consumer advocates and is former New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner.  He takes the position that if the Internet is over-regulated, the basic premise of its ease and freedom is greatly diminished.

These two views represent a marketers’ double-bind. To wit, the Internet should be easy and free while it is private and secure. The conundrum:  if you subscribe of the definition of privacy as fair, transparent and consensual, the handling of information where do you draw the line?  It’s worth mentioning here that if you’re designing a website from scratch it’s not too difficult to design to these criteria. On the other hand, if you are a larger business retrofitting a lot of legacy information, it can be tougher (read expensive) going.

Consider the consumer. S/he wants personalized, relevant content, but at the same time doesn’t want you to “automatically” know too much about him or her. People really hate that corporations have their information that they themselves can’t see it. Perhaps it’s never too soon to consider the scope of corporate consequences and the operational process were the public entitled to that information.

Seth Godin’s permission marketing theory is based on the premise that frequency on the Internet is free and once you have a consumer’s permission to engage him you can keep it up almost indefinitely. Sites like thrive on this while at the same time strive to “extend and deepen the relationships between consumers, merchants and affinity groups.” While gathering information on consumers to offer them the benefits of online coupons, they create an open and obvious value exchange. They provide fair and explicit information to the customer specifying use and data sharing policies. Ultimately, members have access to, and appropriate control over, the data that dash maintains about them.  And they explain it all in simple English.

But permission is heard work for a marketer. Getting it and keeping it. Forrester Research’s The Internet’s Privacy Migraine Report, (May 2000) says that the  media’s brutality over the Internet’s shakedown and ensuing consumer downturn means

customer retention is key. And loyal consumers are starting to view privacy as a


Perhaps the future is word of mouse as Seth Godin’s Idea Virus would suggest.