Advertising Trade Groups Are Creating a Coalition to Push for a Federal Data Privacy Law

It's called Privacy For America

Privacy For America plans to push for legislation that would create a Federal Trade Commission Data Protection Bureau. Illustration, Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Several of the largest advertising trade groups are banding together to push for a federal data privacy law.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and others are creating a coalition called “Privacy For America,” which will work with Congress to draft and potentially pass legislation addressing how the largest companies collect and use consumer data.

While any formal legislation is still being drafted, Privacy For America plans to push for legislation that would create a Federal Trade Commission Data Protection Bureau to help the FTC with overseeing privacy issues.

The coalition also wants any legislation to impose “significant restrictions on data use for advertising” and would ban certain types of data from being used while also allowing consumers to have more control over which types of ads they do or don’t want to receive. It would also add rules around data breaches, as well as ban companies from using personal data to deny jobs, credit or healthcare.

The push comes as lawmakers continue to grapple with how they might strengthen the nation’s data privacy laws in light of the past year of national fervor over how internet giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter and various ad-tech companies collect and use data for advertising. It also comes as businesses and advertisers grapple with California’s sweeping state law that would limit data collection and use.

According to Dan Jaffe, head of government affairs for the ANA, federal legislation is needed instead of allowing states to pass their own privacy laws—something that states including Washington, Texas and others are already considering. He said strong federal legislation is needed to make sure privacy laws are consistent in a way that isn’t confusing across state lines.

“We cannot afford to have a balkanized, piecemeal, hodgepodge set of laws at the statement level,” Jaffe said in an interview. “The internet doesn’t stop at state lines. It’s an international medium … The idea of when you drive your car across a boarder, the idea that your privacy rights go up or down makes no sense at all.”

According to Jaffe, passing federal legislation is the ANA’s top priority for this year—especially if it wants to preempt the California Consumer Privacy Act before it goes into effect in January 2020.

California lawmakers are already working on amending the law, which was hastily passed last year, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been holding a number of hearings in key cities to collect feedback from industry groups, individuals and privacy advocates to better understand what’s at stake and what still needs to be addressed.

State lawmakers are also working on another bill that would allow for individuals whose data rights are violated to sue the responsible companies. Privacy advocates say it’s needed to hold business accountable, while industry groups think it could open a floodgate for frivolous lawsuits.

“The risks for businesses that are being put forward are truly greater than anything we’ve faced before,” Jaffe said. “And the problem is if somebody does something really wrong, maybe they shouldn’t be able to get away with it without being hammered. But in many of these laws, you don’t have to show any economic harm to have a lawsuit.”

Members of Congress are also moving forward with legislation to prevent internet companies from manipulating consumers into sharing personal data unwittingly. Today, Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Deb Fischer, introduced the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act. The bipartisan bill aims to limit how online platforms use behavioral psychology and other practices into getting consumers to agree to data settings they might not otherwise have agreed to.

The DETOUR Act has the backing of privacy advocates—including Common Sense Media, Mozilla and the Electronic Privacy and Information Center.

“Dark patterns are among the least humane design techniques used by technology companies in their scramble for growth at all costs,” Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a former engineer at Facebook, wrote in a statement endorsing the bill. “They use these measures to offer false choices that confuse or trap users into over-sharing personal information or driving compulsive use—especially from the most vulnerable users, including kids. A system-wide rethinking of technology policy and design is in order, so CHT fully supports Senators Warner and Fisher in this bipartisan effort to place significant constraints around the ability to deceive users online.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.