Online privacy efforts are bad for business 

Online advertising is about so much more than pop-up ads and clever image gimmicks in your browser. And it’s not simply a multibillion-dollar industry controlled primarily by large agencies. Take a moment to consider the facts and you will find that it’s the lifeblood of a thriving Internet economy that serves as a growing incubator of talent, innovation and revenue for our larger national economy.

Just like that larger economy, the Internet economy is driven by small businesses such as mine. Embee Mobile and other small businesses are not exceptions to the rule, we are the rule. The fact that my business is supported by eight employees is not an isolated economic occurrence. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, we make up more than 99 percent of all employers and 50 percent of nonfarm private gross domestic product, and we employ 50 percent of all private-sector employees.

Businesses like Embee Mobile not only thrive off Internet advertising, we survive on it. We leverage this medium as an efficient and predictable way to serve our customers and allow us to grow on a global scale. It is one of the cornerstones of the Internet that provides the specialized and infinitely accessible content we’ve all grown to enjoy over the past generation. Numerous small businesses would not be here today without online advertising as a primary source of revenue and a driver of growth. Without it, we can’t run our business and we certainly can’t make payroll.

Recent efforts to impose do-not-track software into Web-browsing tools are rather troublesome. While I am very supportive of any movement to protect our privacy as citizens, I’m concerned that many privacy advocates fail to consider the economic consequences of the software’s impact. Absent from the debate is any real discussion about this rapidly growing sector of small business that relies on a revenue source keeping the Internet alive and helping the larger economy that benefits from it. It should be noted that while the national economy was going through a recession, the Internet economy doubled its workforce.

At Embee Mobile, we treat advertising as any type of engagement. Watching a commercial online about a certain product? That is an engagement, something that the user chose to watch. For their time, we compensate them with our virtual currency known as Embee Points as part of our rewards program.

Again, I stress the opt-in component of this business model. This is how we regulate ourselves and the model. It protects the privacy of our audience and sets expectations for users from initial contact. Adding the do-not-track software layer disrupts that smooth-flowing relationship between us and the user as we not only thrive as a business, but also help enhance the overall user experience to make it much more customer-oriented.

Already, the do-not-track debate is injecting unneeded uncertainty into how we operate and grow as a business. In recent months, Embee Mobile has struggled to perfect targeted advertising through mobile applications and technology. The specter of widespread do-not-track software, however, impedes that progress as we don’t know how much we can or cannot do if we perfect the targeting. Do-not-track can be problematic. Small businesses can be inadvertently cut off at their knees when innovating new products and fresh ways to expand the Internet frontier.

I get it: Privacy is one of the most sacred pillars of our democracy and it’s something that we all cherish. But let’s not make online advertising the bogeyman.

Let’s not deprive growing, independent small firms that employ local communities and help us through difficult economic times. If we don’t stop and think, installing the software could very well set us up for a cluttered digital wasteland or a place where creativity, wealth and jobs once existed. Is that what we really want?

Eric Chan is chief operating officer and co-founder of Embee Mobile, a San Francisco-based company.

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