This Woman Is Keeping Online Ad Companies on Their Toes

The enforcer

The future of online behavioral advertising may lie in the hands of Genie Barton. As vp, director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ online behavioral advertising and mobile marketing initiatives, it would be much easier to describe her as the enforcer of the Digital Advertising Alliance’s AdChoices program. The program requires brands to place a small, triangular blue icon on their ads. When consumers click on the icon, they are sent to a website where they can opt out of targeted ads. Barton logged off to speak to Adweek about privacy and ad targeting.

Why do consumers get annoyed about targeted ads?

If consumers are upset, which is a debatable point, it’s the lack of knowledge that has made this into such an issue. [Supreme Court] Justice Brandeis once said that sunshine is the best antiseptic, and that is what we need to change. Right now, about 28 percent recognize the icon and that’s actually quite good. It’s better than the percent of people that know who their congressman is.

What do you say to those lawmakers who insist advertisers can’t police themselves?

The industry isn’t just policing itself. It has called on an independent third party under the Better Business Bureau, and we’re backstopped by regulatory authority. If companies don’t participate, we can refer a case to the FTC.

What are the advantages of self-regulation over government oversight?

Given how limited government resources are, everyone benefits by having self-regulation. The White House is in favor of a voluntary privacy code of conduct, so it’s unfortunate when Congress or state regulators pooh-pooh self-regulation. They should learn to work with it. They are not resource-rich enough to do all the enforcement and monitoring.

What sort of cases have crossed your desk?

The initial round of cases were about technical compliance, like opt-outs that expired quicker than the industry standard of five years. We’ve also looked to make sure company descriptions of privacy practices were accurate and not misleading. BlueCava, for example, needed to clarify that the opt-out would apply across all platforms.

What kind of cooperation do you get from companies when you bring enforcement actions?

A lot of companies we brought cases against were companies that didn’t know about the program. We found that when you approach companies with the thought you want to help them come into compliance, in the end you get there. We’ve had 100 percent participation in the inquiry and decision process, and all of our recommendations were implemented.

How do you address critics who say Facebook’s AdChoices icon is deceptive because it’s hidden behind hoverscript?

We were criticized for letting Facebook use the icon in the same way it gives information about all its ads, but that’s how users on Facebook have been trained to look for things. This was also a solution they could implement very quickly.

What has been your personal experience with behavioral advertising?

I have beautiful tile in my kitchen. I was looking for it online. Someone targeted me, and God bless them.

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