The FTC and You

For me, the most startling moment of the ClickZ Delivering on Email conference came near the end, during a panel discussion.

Leading email marketers were asked about the new privacy guidelines in Europe and in the U.S., where the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is now being enforced.

The agency has put out some fairly detailed guidelines for complying with the new law, but these leaders weren’t poring over them. Instead, they were hearing that clients are just dumping their email lists.

Wow, I thought. What an opportunity! Those who comply with the law are going to find minimal competition for a long, long time. Knowledge of what the law specifically requires, and how to make it happen, should be extremely valuable.

Many opportunities, even whole industries, have been created over the years based on compliance with government regulations. We’re talking jobs in defense contract compliance and procurement, pollution control, worker safety, and (best of all) accounting, to name a few. Most homes around Washington, D.C., do not house regulators, bureaucrats or lobbyists. Yet these smart, smart people were urging that we leave that money be, as though it were not worth bending down for.

I guess some people can afford to ignore free money, but I can’t, and if you can’t, the FTC has some other opportunities for you.

  • There’s a new paper out on Internet advertising that covers all advertising and ad sales on the Internet. Basically, all the rules that apply to offline ads, especially those regarding the clarity and placement of disclosures (the fine print in most TV ads), apply online as well. If you digest this and can advise others on how to comply with it you will make a lot of money.

  • The FTC will hold a public workshop on B2B marketplaces June 29, at its offices on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Make those luxury hotel reservations now.) If you have one of these marketplaces, if you’re building one, or if you’re even thinking of building one, you’ll want to get your two cents in. The government is especially concerned about the idea that big companies could, by controlling these marketplaces, rig markets.
  • Changes may be coming to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the 1970 law that covers things like your credit report. H.R. 3408 would let investigators secretly obtain credit reports for client companies when they’re looking into possible illegal activity by employees.

This last is important because Vice President Gore wants to extend the act to medical data and other data collected online. Simply cutting a check to the Bush people is not a complete response to this idea.

There is opportunity in complexity. There is also profit in regulations that prevent expensive lawsuits; compliance can be an ounce of prevention. I don’t think I’m making a political statement when I say it doesn’t pay to ignore the government, either before or after it acts.

If you comply first, you can profit from it.

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