Two Sides of the Same Coin

Online publishers are themselves consumers. No, not just consumers of bandwidth or Web servers. They’re consumers, just like their customers. Publishers are individuals who buy gifts, books, airline tickets, even other publications, online.

Those experiences should make online publishers appreciate just how much Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Consumer Privacy Protection are actually two sides of the same coin. The coin is the same one they want to earn, then spend.

Interactive marketing’s promise is “Tell me your personal needs and interests, and I’ll help you find what you want.” Or, “I’ll make sure the only advertisements you see are for things that interest you.” There isn’t any question this promise portends great value for consumers and responsible marketers alike.

However, surveys show consumers fear whatever information they disclose online, particularly the information about their needs and interests, will be indiscriminately sold and resold as informational commodities to unknown, third-party marketers. Without the consumers’ knowledge or consent. Too often, that’s true.

Consumers want to know who will be using the information they put online. And how it will be used.

On the other side of the coin, publishers are worried because online technologies given consumers the ability to acquire movies, video, music, photos, texts, and other content. Consumers can acquire such content legitimately or illegitimately. The livelihoods of publishers, writers, artists, and performers, as well as business payrolls and profits, depend upon legitimate sales.

Publishers want to know who will be using the information they put online. And how it will be used.

So on both sides of the coin, the party who is providing the information wants to know who will be using the information they put online and how it will be used. Neither side realizes the other has the same problem and needs.

The question of who will be using the information is particularly important to both publishers and consumers. If a third party, such as a credit card company or microtransaction company, processes the transaction, does that company know what you bought or sold online? Will the third-party company sell that information? Will it use the information for its own unknown or nefarious purposes?

Look at how much purchase information credit card companies harvest and sell to marketers. Do you really want anyone to know the details of all your online viewing or purchasing? Consumer purchase data is a commodity (at least here in the U.S.). It’s sold by many banks and credit card organizations that don’t necessarily acquire either the permission or knowledge of the consumers themselves.

Indeed, the problem transcends borders. Most online consumers nowadays live outside the U.S. Some 20 to 35 percent of the traffic at major U.S. newspaper and magazine Web sites originate outside the U.S. Consumer data privacy issues sparked a dispute a few years ago between the U.S. and the European Commission.

As a publisher, do you want third-party processing companies to know what your customers bought or read online? That’s confidential trade data. It’s extremely valuable to your company. It’s the publishers’ form of consumer privacy. Will a vendor company sell the information, despite any covenants in your contract that specifically prohibit it? What about other third-party companies used by your own vendors? Would you want the banks that process credit card transactions to harvest sales data from your business?

Until consumers and publishers are each given solid technological and legal protection for their own proprietary information, an insufficient number of them will provide enough information online to permit interactive marketing to fulfill its potentials on the buy or sell side. This naturally includes the ability to target banner ads that accurately address consumers’ interests and needs.

DRM executives and consumer privacy advocates must realize they have common problems. They’re two sides of the same coin.

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