TDS Europe: Act now before US ‘Wild West’ gets EU-style data laws

by Lee Hayhurst
by Lee Hayhurst
April 20, 2012 01:47 PM GMT

Travel firms in the US should use their influence sooner rather than later before EU-style privacy regulations are implemented to clean up the online equivalent of the ‘Wild West’.

Speakers in a social media session at this week’s Travel Distribution Summit agreed that the kind of stricter laws being brought in in Europe would inevitably cross the Atlantic.

A series of exposés by the Wall Street Journal have highlighted the issue in the US as new regulations on the use of cookies ensuring consumers opt in are due to come into force in Europe.

In the US, Target general stores caused an outcry when it served personalised relevant ads to young girls who had browsed about pregnancy but the ads were then seen by their parents.

Alex Kremer, chief operating officer of Flextrip, believes this is not such a major issue in the travel sector as the product being browsed is not so personal.

“I do not think that’s as big a deal in travel. There are lines you don’t want to cross, however the danger of revealing where someone likes going on vacation does not impact someone’s life.

“You can solve that by randomising personalisation results with other non-relevant content. The technology has got so good they have had to tone it down to make consumers more comfortable.”

Lynn Clark, who claimed targeted digital advertising had an impressive 18:1 payback for her company Traterra, said privacy groups in the US are raising this as an issue.

“Since 1995 the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] in the US has basically said if we can self regulate then they will not get involved.

“If not, they support Congress getting involved to try to limit some of this cookie tracking. What’s really interesting is there is a real paradox here.

“Consumers understand that the internet is a free tool mostly because advertising supports most sites. They do not want to pay for websites free of ads.

“Basically, what they could end up with is no longer being served targeted ads but possibly served with more irrelevant ads, which are annoying in a different way.”

Kremer said: “The difference between the EU and the US is night and day.

“In the US it’s pretty much the Wild West for now - as long as you disclose it in your privacy policies you can do pretty much what you like.

“Most marketing in the US is unregulated, whereas in the EU legislation does not allow you to freely wheel and deal in data. That has hampered progress of some developments coming out of the US.

“From a general perspective right now the US is enjoying a free ride. Eventually they are going to have to catch up, especially with new legislation coming out of the EU.”

Clark added this appeal to US firms: “Get involved now because currently [what the US regulators will do] is not fully determined.

“I agree that they are going to use the EU as a basis. I know some of the legislation coming out of the EU is going to be pushed down to the US.

“If you want a voice in shaping it now is the time to get involved.”

Kremer said he welcomed new regulations to put a legal framework in place that will determine what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

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