At last year's Interactive Advertising Bureau Annual Leadership Meeting—held in late February in Miami Beach, Fla., as the political campaign season heated up—IAB President-CEO Randall Rothenberg blasted the organization's members for their lack of involvement in public policy initiatives. “If you want the Internet to be changed, do nothing,” he said in his sternest rebuke in what was a decidedly stern state-of-the-industry address overall. “You must be engaged. What you don't know can hurt you and can kill your company.”
Among the threats Rothenberg enumerated were: Internet piracy, the costly expansion of top-level domain names and the “right to be forgotten” push in Europe that would give consumers the right to remove any information online that they deem too personal.
During a break in the action at this year's considerably more upbeat annual meeting, held late last month at the Arizona Biltmore, I asked Rothenberg whether the IAB membership had responded to the clarion call he made last year at the Fontainebleau.
“For the most part the members of the IAB have stepped up,” he said. “Certainly, at that point I was really referring to their need to be aware of what was going on--in Washington, in Brussels, in state capitols--around Internet regulation. More and more companies are demonstrating active awareness of this, getting involved, creating their own public policy operations, getting involved in lobbying.”
Rothenberg said that even with this stepped-up advocacy, more needs to be done. “There's still a tendency for a lot of publishers, for example, to think that, 'Oh, this is just a problem for ad networks and exchanges.' But it's not,” he said. “It's actually a problem for the publishers themselves because so many of them work with various third parties to optimize their sites and their offerings. So there still needs to be more activism here, more awareness, but it's gotten better since last year.”
Asked what he sees as the main threats on the legislative front this year, Rothenberg cited what he called “a kind of neo-totalitarian impulse” on the part of European Union commissioners.
“They believe in a much, much stronger nanny state and something much less entrepreneurial than the United States,” he said.
“They want to create very, very rigid regulations that crack down on the kinds of communications that can be delivered. They're proposing things and attempting to implement things that would be very harmful to the basic structure of the open Internet itself. It would have a terrible impact on the ability of smaller sites, long-tail sites, smaller e-tailers to be able to do business.”
As for the domestic front, Rothenberg said, “There remains kind of a big debate about do-not-track and how that can be implemented in a way that gives users real choice and real control that isn't machine-implemented by default by browser makers and so allows legitimate businesses, legitimate publishers, legitimate retailers access to the audience and the ability to gather anonymous data that will help improve advertising, retailing and marketing.”
John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at email@example.com.