Sen. Pryor Talks Privacy, Food Guidelines to Ad Biz

He's OK with self-regulation, but worries about bad actors

Advertisers need to be vigilant about self-regulation if they want to keep Washington out of their business. That was the message delivered by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the new chairman of the commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet in his address before the Association of National Advertisers Advertising Law and Public Policy Conference in Washington.

Pryor’s subcommittee is where most of the advertising industry’s most pressing issues will be debated, including privacy, Do Not Track, and food-marketing guidelines to children.

“I’m OK with self-regulation. It works well. But one bad actor or loophole could bring down the wrath of Congress on the industry,” Pryor said. “If you go the self-regulation route and you’re going to say that should forestall federal regulation, that’s fine. But you better make sure you do it the right way.”

Pryor signaled the committee and the subcommittee would be “spending quite a bit of time” on privacy, an issue over which a lot of the Senators have very strong opinions. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the full committee, for example, has never trusted self-regulation for privacy issues and never missed an opportunity to say so.

It doesn’t help that the industry may be sending mixed messages to Congress, especially with Microsoft’s recent launch of a Do Not Track default browser and Mozilla’s decision to look into blocking third-party cookies.

“I’m sure [Microsoft] hasn’t escaped your notice,” said Pryor. “That was a market decision, a decision by a huge player. That’s the kind of thing we talk about.”

Last year, the advertising lobby managed to fend off new food marketing guidelines to children by tightening the industry’s self-regulatory guidelines. From Pryor’s perspective, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is “going pretty well.” But other Senators on the committee don’t see 80 percent participation as enough. “There are some that don’t like the self-regulation approach, so bear that in mind,” Pryor said.

The good news for the ad business is that Pryor says he is willing to listen. “My goal is to provide valuable content while also protecting consumers’ data… Here’s the bottom line: I have an open door. I need to hear from you on these issues,” Pryor said.