Why the IAB Thinks It's Good that Marketers Are Concerned About Privacy

Industry Self-Regulation and Privacy Tools Can Help Brands Respect Consumer Privacy

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The IAB will be releasing its third survey of marketer perceptions of mobile advertising next week, during the Mobile Marketplace conference. There's a slew of encouraging data about the mobile marketplace in the report -- perhaps most notably that mobile advertising budgets are growing and are expected to continue to grow, with more than one in 10 marketers expecting to see those numbers increase by over 50% in the next two years.

But the most encouraging statistic of all is one you might not expect: There was a measurable increase year-over-year in the percentage of mobile brand marketers who are concerned about privacy. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed in the latest study cited privacy as a very important issue, compared with just 22% who said the same in 2013.

And yes, you read that right. We think that industry concern about privacy is a really good thing.

Brands are built on consumers. Anger them at your own peril (can you say "New Coke?") -- treat them right and they'll love you no matter what (hello Nordstrom return policy). The past decade of desktop advertising has taught brands that consumers value privacy, transparency and choice in online advertising, and they are rightly proceeding cautiously in the nascent world of mobile advertising. Which is why we think it makes perfect sense that privacy would top the list of brand concerns.

Fortunately for advertisers, there are terrific tools already in place to help retain and protect that consumer trust. The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), the same group responsible for the ubiquitous AdChoices icon we see on desktop ads, just launched two new mobile enhancements (notably after the survey was conducted). Both the AppChoices tool and the DAA Consumer Choice Page for Mobile Web help ensure that consumers have access to simple control mechanisms for data used in mobile applications and mobile browsers, respectively.

It's not just the tools that should put buyers -- and sellers -- at ease. The evolution of the self-regulatory program itself should as well. When the DAA first set out to work on the issue of interest-based advertising, the group told anyone who would listen that self-regulation was not just the right approach -- it was the only approach. No other way -- law or regulation in particular -- could evolve along with technology.

The DAA's movement into mobile just a few years after its founding is a complete validation of that premise. A law focusing on desktop advertising enacted at the height of the debate in 2009 would be completely outdated. At the time, cramming more disclosures into unread privacy policies was Congress' answer, but the industry was able to develop a revolutionary, real-time disclosure process that benefits consumers and the advertising industry alike. Through self-regulation, the digital advertising industry can continue to stay relevant, moving quickly to where consumers are and want the industry to be. And buyers and consumers alike should take great comfort in that.

Another interesting finding in the mobile marketer survey is the low value buyers put on location. In a list of key benefits of mobile advertising for brand buyers, location was ranked toward the bottom. Location has long been seen as both the holy grail of mobile advertising and the be-all-end-all of mobile advertising privacy issues. Now, with location is falling in the ranks, potentially because of privacy concerns, the knowledge that the DAA is now enforcing its mobile self-regulatory principles -- which includes rules for specific location data -- is sure to change buyers' perceptions.

Concern over privacy is a good thing. It shows that marketers are taking mobile seriously and want it to be viable for the long term. So are conversations about privacy -- ad buyers should absolutely be asking the ad sellers and technology vendors tough questions about where their data comes from, how they protect it, how they use it, and how they inform consumers about all that.

If a prospective business partner can't answer these questions to your satisfaction, don't work with them. Working with our industry association partners through the DAA, the IAB has helped set the standards for consumer data notice and choice across the digital ad industry. Making those standards mandatory is the best thing marketers can do to put at ease their collective concern about privacy in the mobile advertising world.

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