Give Me Notice or Give Me Death

I think I’ve noticed a link between AOL‘s alleged “upgrade from hell,” the lawsuit now proceeding against DoubleClick, and the rise of John McCain.

Marketers are so anxious to get permission they’re not telling consumers what the permission is for. In other words, we’re not giving consumers sufficient notice.

Consumers rebel against this kind of thing instinctively. Here’s an example of something that went to Eva Rosenberg’s I-Helpdesk list recently.

One of her readers wrote that he went to AOL for tutorials on putting sound at his web site, run by CNET as part of Builder.com. There he found a link called “try the mix-ulator.”

“When I clicked on the link, it did an install of a plug-in,” specifically Macromedia’s Shockwave, “without asking if I wanted it,” he wrote. “About two minutes later I got an email thanking me for downloading the plug-in.” The email included this line: “During the download process, in addition to getting the Shockwave Player, you also became a member of shockwave.com.”

Neither the software nor the mailing list upset this person per se. What upset him was the lack of notice.

This is the real problem with AOL’s upgrade. It doesn’t give sufficient notice that you’re about to disable your other ISP accounts, or your other email accounts, or your other browsers, when installing AOL 5.0. You can back out of all this, in time, but you spend that time cursing Steve Case.

The same thing is true with the DoubleClick suit. In theory, it’s great that advertisers can target you as an individual. This means you get ads only for things you might actually be interested in, rather than the usual white noise.

The problem is that, by combining cookie data with data from Abacus Direct (which DoubleClick bought for $1.7 billion in stock last November), a very important point is being missed – notice.

Notice – the lack of it, the danger inherent in businesses’ failure to give any – is also at the heart of Simson Garfinkel’s new book, “Database Nation.” In this exhaustively researched work, Garfinkel details all kinds of threats to privacy, concluding with a call for legislation.

Privacy legislation is something everyone in this industry fears, and organizations like TRUSTe have been on the frontlines in saying that “self-regulation” will work. According to some in Washington, industry groups are about to be rolled. “This issue has gone off the Richter scale in terms of public sensitivity,” Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Business Week.

All of which leads back to John McCain. McCain’s charm to voters is based on the fact that he says what he thinks. Pro-choice voters are on notice that he’s pro-life, yet many support him anyway because he gives them notice. His record on Internet issues, I found, is also an open book.

Oh, and guess whose committee will have to rule on any bills in this Congress regarding Internet privacy? That’s right, it’s John McCain’s committee. If the conductor of the “Straight Talk Express” decides to notice the growing demand for privacy legislation, watch out! On that point, at least, you’ve just been given notice.

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