Letter to the Editor in purple lettering on envelope

Dear Editor,

From cities large and small across Ohio, small businesses depend on digital advertising to attract customers and earn revenue. These small businesses are the backbone of our economy, including in Mansfield.

In fact, small businesses in Ohio make up 99.6 percent of all businesses and employ more than 2.2 million people, which is about 45 percent of the state’s workforce.

As we all know, our economy has become increasingly online as people are more and more connected through their phones, computers and other devices – and that’s where the importance of digital advertising comes in.

Compared to traditional advertising like print or TV, digital advertising and marketing are low-cost and efficient, sometimes even free, helping any American with an internet connection pursue an idea, maybe start a business, and contribute to jobs and economic growth.

Amidst all the political drama in Washington, D.C., it’s easy to forget how social media has opened doors for millions of entrepreneurs and creatives, including in Ohio.

There are countless stories of how small business owners used ingenuity and innovation, through online platforms and digital advertising, to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, support their families, and remain integral parts of their local communities.

As our country continues to recover from COVID-19, grappling with persistent inflation, it’s shocking that Congress would eliminate tools that helped small businesses survive lockdowns and enable them to compete with big national brands, or even become one.

But that’s what “data privacy” and other legislation might do, if Congress isn’t careful. Seeking to punish Big Tech, both Republicans and Democrats would be responsible for the disaster.

Unfortunately, party leaders are working to resuscitate the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), which would eliminate broad categories of consumer data, including public data, as well as targeted advertising. Although the bill contains carve-outs for small businesses, the effects would be widespread and expose many to lawsuits, penalties and fines.

In the EU, similar legislation destroyed innovation and investment. Regulations are vague, and penalties high for non-compliance. Nevertheless, House members are forging ahead with EU-style internet regulations here in the U.S. At stake could be millions of jobs and trillions of dollars of economic value, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau research.

The tragedy is that the U.S. needs a nationwide data privacy law to simplify a patchwork of conflicting state laws. A federal one should protect consumer data and make it easy to comply in every state. It should also protect digital advertising, representing most advertising these days, and its share is growing. 

Ironically, just as opportunities for small businesses are proliferating, so are attacks on digital advertising, encompassing nearly every digital medium today. Misguided data privacy legislation would affect email, websites, sales software, and more, blending seamlessly to save businesses and their customers time and money. Bills like the AMERICA Act would dismantle digital advertising markets that have evolved over decades. 

In the early days, a small business owner could hardly grasp the number of opportunities to advertise online. Today, at the click of a button, search engines and advertising platforms offer real estate on millions of websites worldwide, and newcomers are challenging the dominance of Google and Facebook. Streaming opportunities are multiplying, too.

Bills like the ADPPA, the AMERICA Act, “Commercial Surveillance” rules at the Federal Trade Commission, and other attacks on digital advertising in Washington, would severely undermine progress. Small businesses from Mansfield to Columbus and across Ohio would bear the brunt.

Brendan Thomas

Washington D.C.

Brendan Thomas is executive director of Internet for Growtha nationwide coalition of small business owners and content creators who rely on digital advertising to create jobs and economic growth.