A new era in advertising privacy?

Blog posted by Nick Stringer
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With half of the year already behind us, the IAB’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, Nick Stringer, shares his thoughts on a few key areas in digital advertising policy.

The half-way point of 2013 seems a logical place to take stock of developments, successes and challenges in the digital advertising regulatory and public policy space. And - as the UK sector passed the £5bn spend milestone in 2012 - we can benchmark the first half on the challenges the IAB set out in January. This highlighted two important issues in relation to privacy: the implementation of the EU self-regulatory programme for targeted advertising and the reform of existing data protection law across Europe.

Have you seen the icon?
The EU self-regulatory programme for targeted advertising began its leap from industry innovation to mass market consumer symbol in June with the launch of a dedicated advertising campaign to make people more aware of what the icon is, what it means and what it does. Having kicked off in the UK and Ireland, the campaign is due to spread across other EU markets in the remainder of the year. Research shows that UK consumers understand the role of advertising in helping fund online content and services, want ads to be relevant but also want transparency and control over how their data is collected and used for this purpose.

Back in the office…
Behind the scenes a significant amount of work has been going on to build an effective and credible industry-wide solution. In February, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) took on the responsibility of handling consumer complaints, part of an EU-wide approach to ensure that self-regulatory organisations, ones that have been helping consumers as advertising evolves from broadcast TV and print to digital platforms, have an integral role to play. Underpinning this role will be an independent verification process that will check – on an on-going basis - that businesses are delivering on what they have committed to, regardless of any consumer complaint, supported by a new trust seal to provide the ad market with evidence of compliance. The European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) – the EU body that administers the self-regulatory system – has taken steps towards this becoming a reality with three approved providers now available. Everything you need to know about the EU initiative can be found via IAB UK’s FAQs here or via the EDAA’s site.

Going mobile
With ad spend beginning to catch up with consumer time spent on mobile and tablet devices, so the next phase in the self-regulatory programme begins. Mobile ad privacy is a growing issue. The EU icon technical specification is being reviewed with mobile browser inventory in mind and the USA industry coalition under the guise of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) is expected to announce how its self-regulatory principles for targeted advertising will apply to the mobile environment. Europe is likely to follow suit to ensure consumers and businesses alike have a global and consistent experience, as they do online.

But when will there be a new data protection law?
Probably the largest question on many people’s lips is when the reform of existing EU data protection law will be complete. Proposals were put forward by the European Commission in January 2012 and since then there have been months of debate and nearly 4,000 amendments in the European Parliament. Key votes have been postponed until the autumn and there is not yet agreement amongst national governments or amongst parliamentarians. Much is still up for debate and discussion and it is important for consumers, digital advertising and the content and services that it underpins, as well as the development of the internet that there is a balanced and proportionate outcome. See here and here on the arguments the sector is making. It’s important to say again what was said in January: privacy is now main stream to organisations and consumers alike. Building privacy-enabling tools into product cycles gives consumers control and fosters trust. This is what new data protection rules should be encouraging.

Coming up…
For the rest of the year, conversations have been getting heightened as Mozilla continues to pursue its new third party cookie functionality within the Firefox browser, and the W3C strives for consensus on ‘Do Not Track’. You can expect that industry, including the IAB, will be involved in these discussions to help benefit consumers and the industry that helps power the internet.

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