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blog: Don Marti

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CCPA as a game mechanic?

31 December 2019

Doc Searls pointed out, back in 2013, that direct marketing has taken over the advertising business. At the same time, the optimal balance between brand building and sales activation has shifted toward brand building. Advertising done right can be a source of funding for creative work, as part of a positive-sum cooperative game involving honest sellers and discerning but time-limited buyers. Today's Internet advertising doesn't manage to pull that off, because of its persistent fraud and brand safety problems.

But marketers are citizens and parents, too. The struggle over advertising's alignment isn't about privacy nerds on one side and marketers on the other, it's about forming a connection between people looking at the advertising problem from both sides. A privacy developer building a system to help users control the use of their personal information is working on one subtask of the same project as a marketer who needs a trustworthy platform to build brand equity.

The problem, since the rise of third-party cookies in the first dot-com boom, has been that negative-sum marketing investments are much better at justifying money spent on them than positive-sum, signaling-based investments. As a marketer, it's easy to show numbers to prove the success of a creepy project, while leaving the long-term damage to the brand to the next person.

Now for the good news.

Starting tomorrow, the California Consumer Privacy Act will give us an important tool to shift the balance between positive-sum and negative-sum advertising, by interrupting the data flows that allow for the placement and measurement of the bad stuff. The CCPA is an important tool to help marketers concerned about brand equity, to redirect ad budgets to support the creative work that we want. January 1, 2020 is CCPA Day, and the beginning of the journalism and culture boom of the 2020s.

It will take some work, though. CCPA without action by citizens is just a piece of paper. It only works if people take action to opt out, have their data deleted, or both. And the right companies to contact for maximum impact are usually the shadowy data brokers that you might not think of. Oracle is a database company and a sailboat sponsor, right? Yes, but they're also the owner of a collection of database marketing companies and an important node to disconnect from the attack path that leads to me. Even though I'm a privacy nerd from way back, the prospect of opting out and deleting my data from all the shady companies out there looks like a boring grind, even though I know I'll enjoy more ad-supported news and cultural works in the future.

At least I don't need to do CCPA stuff to protect myself from anything already covered by privacy technology. I don't need to spend human time dealing with a problem that a machine can block. That handles a lot of the ankle-biters of the Lumascape. But we still have a bunch of important nodes on the surveillance economy network to get to. Boring.

One way to get a good-sized pool of opt-outs and deletions in place will be to gamify it. I'm using a browser extension to log when an opt out or deletion has happened, report it to the back end. From there, connect it to an inventory or deck-building feature of the game, so the more opt-outs you do, the better your chances of winning.

Work in progress: source code

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