There seems to be a new consensus forming on the corporate attitude toward consumer privacy, if we are to believe the panelists at this week's Managing the New Privacy Revolution conference here in D.C. It seems more companies are realizing that collecting and selling personal information on customers (such as correlating age, sex, and income with product preferences and shopping habits) isn't as profitable as they thought. For a while it seemed the only business plan on the web was for emerging dot.com's to start business in the red by giving away free services, hoping to attract users to their site and persuade them to part with their precious demographic data, which the unprofitable site could then turn around and sell to a marketing firm.
But today National Journal's TechDaily is reporting that many companies have realized "that the financial impact of consumer preferences can outweigh the value of selling data," thus "the marketing industry has significantly altered its approach to online advertising." Imagine - consumers actually having a significant impact on the way corporations operate. Perhaps the privacy advocates who assured us that no one has any privacy as long as profit-hungry corporations are allowed to accumulate data on their customers have underestimaed the power of uncoordinated individuals to make their preferences known in the free market. It could, in fact, be The Invisible Mouse at work.