Consumers Will Soon Be Able to Opt-Out of Targeted Mobile Ads

Counterpart to online advertising choices

While the World Wide Consortium sputters and spits trying to negotiate a Do Not Track standard to protect consumer privacy online, the digital advertising business is forging ahead with expanding its self-regulation program to mobile devices.

On Wednesday, the Digital Advertising Alliance, representing the nation's largest media and marketing associations, announced mobile principles for behaviorally targeting advertising, the first major step in offering consumers a way to opt-out of targeted ads the same way consumers can now opt-out of online paid messages via the DAA's ad choices program.

The mobile counterpart to the DAA's online ad choices program has been in the works since the self-regulation online program was launched two years ago. Since then, advertisers proudly tout that the program serves up a trillion ads per month that gives consumers notice and choice to opt-out of targeted ads.

Meant to give consumers a consistent experience no matter what digital platform they are using, the mobile principles require advertisers, agencies, publishers and ad networks to provide notice about data collected on mobile devices over time and across different applications. The principles also cover data unique to mobile devices including geolocation or personal directory data. Sensitive material, such as data covering medical or financial information, or data for eligibility purposes, is prohibited from collection.

Coordinating with the DAA, the Network Advertising Initiative, a member of the DAA that oversees and enforces the self-regulation of 100 of the nation's top ad networks also announced its final mobile code that complements the DAA code.

The pair of announcements means that within the next year, consumers will have an easy one-stop, cross-app mechanism for opting out of targeted ads. Once implemented, companies that run afoul of the principles will be held accountable and subject to the same enforcement as the online program.

"As of Wednesday, everyone is on notice that by a certain date, all companies involved in using cross-app data, geolocation and personal directories will have to abide by the rules of the road," said Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA.

While the DAA has yet to settle on an execution standard, it is likely to include mobile tools that have been developed by Truste and Evidon, the two tech firms that help companies comply with the DAA's online ad choices program. Both use the DAA's ubiquitous blue icon that appears on DAA ads.

Coming up with the mobile guidelines wasn't easy for the fast-growing mobile ecosystem that is expected to attract about $4 billion in advertising revenue this year and double in two years, per eMarketer. There were technological challenges to take into account since unlike the online space where cookies are the standard, mobile apps don't all use a universal signal or identifier to track the consumer.

"Whenever you set out on a project that binds an entire ecosystem, there are a lot of business models you have to take into account and a lot of ways consumer interact," Mastria said.

The advertising industry has taken its share of knocks in Congress, mostly from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who has said numerous times that self-regulation cannot work.

Though advertisers are under no delusion they can convince Rockefeller, they are nevertheless optimistic that by expanding the ad choices program, more policymakers will see little need for stricter laws. DAA members have already talked up the expansion of the program to regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and lawmakers on the Hill.

"On the substance, it will get positive reactions," predicted Stu Ingis, a partner at Venable, which represents the DAA. "We have offered a heightened standard while the W3C continues to flounder. We've made that whole effort irrelevant."

At the very least, the industry is staying ahead of regulators. "Self-regulation is moving forward, quicker than regulators and legislators are able to do," said Marc Groman, executive director of the NAI.