In yet another attempt to keep the government from stepping in with regulations about consumers' privacy online, the advertising industry has decided to expand the scope of its self-regulatory program.
This latest change to the program, which has thus far been successful at getting regulators to back off, was a response to calls from federal agencies for privacy programs covering all online data collection and use, not just data collected for purposes of advertising. In addition to having the choice to opt out of behaviorally targeted advertising, consumers will now also have the choice to opt out of data collected from websites that could be used for other purposes such as employment, credit, or insurance. There are also specific protections for the collection of sensitive data concerning children, health, and financial data.
Advertisers first released the principles for their self-regulatory program for online behaviorally targeted advertising in 2009. But since then, regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, have released draft reports calling for more comprehensive approaches.
"Policymakers have raised concerns that the same data that is used for online behavioral advertising is being misused for other purposes. Although the business community has never done that—it's clearly prohibited—we wanted to put all the force of self-regulation behind it," said Stu Ingis, the general counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of six advertising associations representing 5,000 companies that is administering the self-regulatory program.
Ingis and other DAA executives have been working with regulators for the past several months to expand the program. "We've been encouraging them to make these changes and believe it's an important step for consumers and for self-regulation," said Jessica Rich, the deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Protection Bureau.
The new guidelines will be implemented next year and include enforcement mechanisms for companies that fail to comply.
Online privacy has been an ongoing story in the press and a big topic in Washington. But with other priorities in Congress, legislation has little chance of getting passed this year. The move by the advertising community, however, pre-empts the release of final reports from the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, expected by the end of the year or early next.
The DAA includes the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Network Advertising Initiative.