Why It's Important for Us to Strictly Police Our Own Digital Efforts

Three Key Points at the Center of the Case

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As we all know, the government has taken an interest in protecting consumer privacy as it relates to advertising, and as an industry, we've had some successes via the Digital Advertising Alliance.

The DAA -- a consortium of which the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association are founding members -- unveiled in late 2010 the Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, or interest-based advertising. The White House has endorsed this directive.

It is far too early to pat ourselves on the back, however. Many organizations remain conspicuously absent from our effort, and I cannot stress enough that this is no time for complacency.

These companies must become truly involved. Their first step should be to certify their compliance under the DAA framework.

The alliance has partnered successfully with leading telecommunications carriers, content developers, ad agencies and networks, and internet companies to establish principles for transparency in the use of consumer data in interest-based advertising.

The DAA is working to ensure that consumers are meaningfully informed about the types of ads they're being served online and to provide them a mechanism for control.

Since launching the AdChoices program in October 2010, the alliance has secured the participation of hundreds of major companies across the advertising ecosystem, including agencies, brands, direct marketers, digital advertisers, ad networks and service providers. Through AdChoices, consumers can learn more about the companies serving ads to them online and how to opt out from receiving them.

Consumers know that interest-based advertising is widespread but accept that they are participating in a free, ad-supported medium. Still, it's in our industry's best interest to partner with consumers by giving them the choice to opt out from receiving marketing messages, especially ones that are not relevant: If you're not a parent of young children, or about to become one, you're not interested in ads offering coupons for diapers.

The AdChoices icon is now a ubiquitous mark for consumer education and choice in interest-based advertising. More than 50 billion DAA icons are served to the web every month, and millions of online consumers have benefited from learning more about interest-based advertising and the practices of DAA program participants. A very good start.

But advertisers should know that whether they run one interest-based ad per quarter or hundreds of thousands daily, they must practice transparency and give consumers the opportunity to make informed choices and exercise control over the ads they receive. Agencies have a responsibility to help educate their clients.

Here's why self-regulation is in the interests of advertisers and the agencies that partner with them:

  • Companies don't want arbitrary laws and regulations. Web- and ad-tech innovations come primarily from U.S. companies, and government-imposed rules would constrict job growth and business advancement.
  • Marketers and agencies are in a better position to adapt to self-regulation for online advertising because we're at the front lines of evolving tech issues. We can ensure from the outset that consumer protections are built in to any marketing programs as well as the underlying tech platforms that deliver the programs to consumers.
  • The web is trust-based. One breach by an advertiser and the brand can lose a customer forever. Education, transparency and decision-making through AdChoices empower our customers.
  • The government has noticed these efforts. The White House joined the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce in praising the progress of the advertising industry through the DAA.

    On Feb. 23, White House Senior Economic Adviser Gene Sperling announced: "We are very pleased to recognize the initiative of the internet and media industries through the Digital Advertising Alliance. ... This is the type of example of voluntary industry action to increase the trust in the internet that is essential in the development of our economy."

    The DAA is moving to collaborate with the World Wide Web Consortium to integrate browser-based privacy controls as yet another consumer-choice method under the alliance's framework.

    But, though our success is real, the specter of regulation persists.

    Despite their recent enthusiasm, government agencies will continue to watch closely for progress on this key privacy issue.

    And if they aren't satisfied they will act -- by imposing regulation.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    Nancy Hill is president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

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