It's been a stressful few months for the Digital Advertising Alliance, the consortium of ad trade groups trying to self-regulate around online privacy and the maker of those little triangular ads offering consumers information on tracking. That's because Microsoft continues to plan on releasing the latest version of its Internet Explorer browser with a do-not-track signal turned on as by default.
What that means for the entire online ecosystem remains to be seen, particularly as there's yet to be industry consensus on what "do not track" even means. In the meantime, the DAA has recently hired Lou Mastria, most recently the chief privacy officer at Canoe Ventures, as its new leader. We talked to him earlier this week about the Internet Explorer issue and whether self-regulation is enough.
Some answers have been lightly edited.
Advertising Age: What's your current stance on the Microsoft Internet Explorer issue?
Lou Mastria: We've been consistent about supporting browser-based do-not-track as long as it's a complement to the icon program. One of the fundamental things not being talked about is that the icon program provides consumers with choice in real time, not some setting made on my browser two years ago that I've subsequently forgotten about. A real-time choice like that has to do with relevancy, has to do with context of that consumer at that particular point in time.
Our program properly balances the need for privacy, control, transparency and trust on the internet with the ability for businesses to monetize. We don't think that shutting off the data flows that enable that balance to occur is an appropriate response.
Ad Age : But people like my wife, who aren't in media or advertising, have no idea what that icon means or what may even be behind it. So is that enough?
Mr. Mastria: Look, that 's the right question to ask, and awareness going forward will continue to be a big part of this. Part of the DAA program is not only rolling out the icon but rolling out a consumer-education campaign that we started. I think we're averaging about 1 million visitors a month to YourAdChoices.com, which describes what's going on. So we think that over time folks like your wife, my wife, the education component will reach them and start to show them what kind of happens.
Ad Age : Any possibility of changes to what the icon looks like? Is something like that needed?
Mr. Mastria: I think the real issue here is dealing with changes day in and day out. We're empaneling a committee on how does this work on the app side in the mobile environment. We are responding to change which is emblematic of self-regulation programs that can evolve very quickly. Will there be changes to the program? Yeah, there will be some fine-tuning. Ultimately the core principles of the program will continue to be the bedrock.
Ad Age : Isn't part of the issue with self-regulation exactly that ? That it's self-regulation and why should consumers trust it?
Mr. Mastria: That's absolutely right, but the beautiful thing about how the DAA is structured is that we have as one of our seven principles enforcement. It's been less than a year, and the Better Business Bureau has acted on 12 cases.
Ad Age : So what's the DAA's next move when it comes to Microsoft?
Mr. Mastria: We have to see what comes next. Right now, as you pointed out, there's still very big open questions about how this gets implemented. But our focus remains the same. If there are browser-based mechanisms, they should be a complement to the market. You shouldn't disable this free and vibrant internet.
Ad Age : Do you envision a scenario where companies don't honor the Microsoft default?
Mr. Mastria: We made a commitment to honor browser-based mechanisms earlier this year at the White House. We certainly hope Microsoft understands what they're putting at risk in terms of the consumer experience of the web. And that 's all we can say today.