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ARTICLE

The Midterm Elections and Adtech: Let’s Engage

November 16, 2018 — by Daniel Sepulveda

I assume that most people who work in our sector worry about their country, kids and neighbors during elections. As it relates to work, they worry much more about product development and sale, client relationships, quarterly returns and a market strategy to win the future than they do about how politics and policy affect our prospects. But repercussions for us abound and they are not well understood due to the everyday pressures of running companies and competing in a complex marketplace.

We have to step up our engagement and better articulate and evolve our role in society and markets. We have to inform and assist policymakers in tackling governing challenges relatively new to them, from privacy to competition in digital markets to immigration. Doing so successfully is critical to our ability to continue to grow and thrive responsibly with the support and guidance of citizens, consumers and their representatives.

At MediaMath, we view our advocacy efforts on law and policy as a cooperative joint problem-solving exercise with policymakers. We do not reflexively oppose new law or regulation. Though we believe the ideas embedded in laws in Europe and California need modification and work, we do not attack their efforts to construct baseline rules for data use and protection. We fully understand that people all over the world are asking both market leaders and politicians to rise to the challenge of governing our digital society, and we want to be part of the solution.

Policymakers have struggled from the internet’s inception with everything from how it is changing the way we work and learn to the degree to which it can be leveraged to harm or help us. Constructing a set of policies, law and regulation to give people a sense of job security, consumer protection and control over their lives and information in the digital age is a central governing question for any serious politician. This new Congress and the coming presidential campaigns will struggle with these questions as well.

There are a number of hot takes on what the midterm elections mean for the tech sector at large as a matter of politics and policy. Axios’ David Mc Cabe wrote that “Tuesday’s midterm results will shake up the congressional committees responsible for keeping tabs on the tech industry, setting the stage for new legislation taking direct aim at companies like Google and Facebook.” Others agree with that analysis. Politico reports that both Democrats and Republicans will pursue new privacy legislation, though they say the chances of it passing are small due to bad blood between the parties and the upcoming focus on the next presidential election.

At MediaMath—and, I suspect, at most of the small and medium-sized tech companies that work in this space—we have nothing against Google and Facebook, nor are we their protectors. But as Congress considers bringing these giants to heel, we have to inform policymakers on how any shot taken at them through privacy law or other measures could inadvertently hit the smaller companies in adtech like ours and maybe even entrench the giants politicians seek to tame. Which isn’t to say that new law is not necessary. It’s only to say that it should be carefully constructed and incorporate the views of as many stakeholders as possible. And as Democrats take the House, we have to articulate the value of the advertising-supported internet for people with limited means to access services and information without having to dig into their pockets for a subscription for every website.

We listen for signals from consumers in the marketplace. One of the sources of signal is how their elected representatives express their views of what we do. Adtech is a subset of the larger technology sector and has a unique set of interests. Our business and industry are disproportionately dependent on access to the open internet and the data that is transmitted over it through digital devices from laptops to smartphones to smart TVs.

We can work with policymakers to construct privacy law that gives consumers greater control over their information, penalizes predatory or harmful practices and ensures that consumers are involved in an informed, fair value exchange for access to their data, time and attention. Beyond that, we can work with policymakers to ensure that the internet remains a tool for the small democratization of discourse and commerce. And, lastly, we can and should work to make the digital dividends we are reaping as a sector more accessible and inclusive of more of America. These midterms were not about us, but the new leadership will affect us. Let’s engage.