A much-debated topic of the past has recently re-entered the limelight: Should an individual’s right to internet privacy have more value than that of marketing firms and service providers who access browsing data in order to target communications back to that person?
This time, a bill is being introduced to the United States Congress that aims to bring in regulations to this area.
The bill is called the “Browser Act,” and the person behind its introduction is none other than Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
A Little Background on this New Bill
The reason why Blackburn’s name is familiar in this discussion is because she was identified as one of the members of the Congress who vociferously opposed and voted out a ruling by the previous Obama Administration that required internet service providers to obtain consent from their customers before they share any collected information with third parties.
Interestingly, the ruling is yet to take effect and was supposed to be applied only from this December.
But before that, the republicans rushed in and scrapped it.
Blackburn’s name was among the members of the Congress who were heavily criticized publicly.
That is why questions are being raised on what her motives are in presenting this Browser Act.
Is this just an issue of internet privacy or is there more to it than what meets the eye?
Business vs. Internet Privacy
As mentioned above, many would not grudge Congresswoman Blackburn’s keenness in protecting the interests of the customers and the cause of internet privacy.
However, if certain organizations were working towards serving the very same customers by giving them the information they need, what’s wrong in it? There is already an overdose of communications in general, and through social media sites in particular.
Many customers are irritated by pop-ups and other forms of virtual intrusion by online marketers and advertisers.
But the argument by industry bodies like the Internet Association is that it is precisely for this reason that the collection and sharing of personal data comes useful.
Focused and Relevant Communication to Benefit Customers
Firms like Google, Amazon and Facebook claim that when they collect the browsing behavior of their members or customers, they are able to use technology to decipher the trends or preferences of each separate customer.
When such data is shared with advertisers and marketing companies, they use it to send only the most relevant communication, either by way of emails or through the placing of advertisements online, or on specific pages the individual is likely to visit.
When only such focused communications are sent to customers, it helps alleviate the individual from being bombarded with data, emails and other communications they just don’t need.
This should be seen as a benefit not purely from the invasion of internet privacy. It helps to eliminate junk messages so only relevant information is processed and sent to the customers.
The GDP Loss and Job Loss Argument
Those opposing the Brower Act, like the Interactive Advertising Bureau, put forth the argument that this bill, if passed, could impact an entire section of business that contribute to the nation’s GDP, which could also result in the loss of thousands of jobs.
This may be the language used to convince the politicians not to vote for the bill.
However, the general consensus may be that there has to be a healthy balance between the individual’s internet privacy and the interests of businesses that thrive on the internet behavior-related data that’s being collected.
A Balanced Approach Needed
While law-makers need to be concerned about the interests of every stakeholder while making laws, businesses must also keep in view the right perspective.
Within the purview of protecting internet privacy, it is still possible for the service providers and social media sites like Facebook to seek and obtain their users’ permission to go ahead and sell or share their data to third parties.
These third parties, typically advertisers, would then relay back to the customers their special messages.
The permissions could be obtained for specific items such as their browsing habits, rather than their physical locations and so on.
The jury is still out on this issue, but hopefully the bill lends some favor of both sides who are concerned.