IAB and its Proposed Privacy Guidelines: Will Fail to Effectively Protect the Public

So relieved where some in the interactive ad business when they read the FTC’s staff proposed privacy principles released last month that commentators described the reaction as the industry had “dodged a bullet” and “breathed a sigh of relief” [“FTC Online Ad Targeting Guidelines: Industry Breathes A Sigh Of Relief”].

Now Paidcontent describes plans underway by the IAB to offer “privacy standards,” via a “15-member working group,” that includes Time Warner, Microsoft, Yahoo! and others [“Online Ad Industry Groups Take Steps To Self-Police”]. According to the January 4, 2008 article by David Kaplan “[T]he IAB task force will address issues of consumer notice and choice, in terms of deciding the context for selecting opt-in or opt-out.”

IAB lobbyist Mike Zaneis says in the article that “[T]he level of appropriate choice needs to be flexible…consumer regulation will prove to be more efficient and powerful than government regulation.” Zaneis considers the campaign against Facebook that resulted in some modest–and ineffective in my view–changes in its data collection system as an illustration of “consumer regulation.” It’s clear that the IAB is incapable of developing a policy that will protect consumers. Anyone who understands the contemporary dimensions of the interactive marketing industry–and has the public welfare in mind–should recognize what is required. The IAB will not be taken seriously if it can’t deliver the truth (it’s so far failed to protect the public from troubling online lead generation practices, for example. See our November 1, 2007 FTC filing). Yahoo!, Microsoft, Time Warner and others on the committee should lead–and not follow–advice from the IAB that will lead to prolonged political conflict–in Europe, in Congress, at the FTC and FCC, and with the incoming Administration.

Real governmental rules are required–including measures that effectively protect every consumer and also address vulnerable groups and sensitive marketing issues. The IAB’s old school Beltway mentality will likely give online advertisers a bad name. Where are the ad industry’s thoughtful leaders who can help steer the IAB in an honorable direction?

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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