Brands should self-regulate to avoid government steps

The Federal Trade Commission recently released a framework for balancing consumer privacy and innovation online, which includes a “Do-Not-Track” mechanism. There is a great deal we still need to understand about the actual implementation of much of the FTC report, but there are aspects that are encouraging and others that could be cause for concern.

The Online Publishers Association, a trade group for web-based publishers, has been in support of self-regulation. We believe it is in the best interest of the entire industry, as well as the consumer. As publishers, OPA members have a first-party relationship with the consumer — one that is based on trust. What the current self-regulatory framework provides is clear accountability for the entire ecosystem. It requires anyone who touches the consumer to provide transparency, as well as choice, so that we can all maintain trust.

Although we believe self-regulation will allow innovation to continue, we take the FTC report seriously, as well as many of the comments that we have heard from lawmakers, regarding their intentions to explore legislation.  

The part of the report that is most concerning is the concept of “Do-Not-Track.” There is still a great deal to understand about its actual technical implementation. But it is critical, as with the self-regulatory framework, that publishers should not and will not be responsible for the activities of everyone else in the ecosystem. We all need to be accountable. We all need to be trustworthy.

A positive aspect of the FTC recommendation is that it clearly reaffirmed some key elements of the FTC’s 2009 Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) report. Companies do not need to provide choice to consumers before collecting and using data for “first-party marketing” purposes, as they recognize that this is a “commonly accepted practice,” the FTC said. The staff report also specifically notes that contextual advertising, the majority of advertising served by OPA members, also falls within this definition as it also meets consumer expectations as appropriate practice.    

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has spent a great deal of time developing the third version of its standard terms and conditions for Internet advertising. Everyone with a stake in online advertising, including agencies, publishers and ad networks, sat at the table and committed to them.

We would all be better off as an industry if we support the tools — including self-regulation and the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s terms and conditions — that exist so that the FTC and ultimately lawmakers don’t do it for us. 

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