* Privacy, self-regulation top concerns for advertisers
* Trade group pushing against tougher EU standards
* Privacy expert says time to show self-regulation works
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, March 28 Online advertisers facing
scrutiny from governments wanting to give Internet users more
control over personal data online were urged at an industry
conference on Wednesday to avoid privacy blunders that could
undermine calls for self-regulation.
The White House and U.S. Federal Trade Commission have
unveiled privacy frameworks that rely heavily on voluntary
commitments by the advertisers to address lack of controls over
the collection and trading of vast amounts of detailed
information about the online activities and real-life identities
Google Inc, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and
other technology companies have lobbied against congressional
and federal agency proposals that crack down on data collection.
Companies also have a close eye on European Union proposals
that would give Internet users the right to bar any collection
of personal data.
"If you don't want to be regulated, do it yourself," the
Council of Better Business Bureau's Genie Barton warned
participants at a conference held by the Association of National
Barton, vice president and director of the organization's
online behavioral advertising program, said the U.S.
government's stance on privacy is very close to the principles
of the Digital Advertising Alliance's (DAA) self-regulatory
program followed by 90 percent of the ad industry.
"Right now, we have a confidence-building exercise where we
can use the existing DAA program to continue to prove to the FTC
that we as an industry can adequately regulate ourselves," said
privacy expert Amy Mushahwar, an attorney with Reed Smith.
But the EU has not endorsed self-regulation.
"The EU is still highly distrustful of anything but heavy
regulation. It is, however, recognizing that the privacy bill of
rights is a big step," Barton said.
The White House called last month for a "privacy bill of
rights," while the FTC on Monday pushed the industry to
implement by the end of the year a Do Not Track system that
would let consumers click a button on their Internet browsers to
ensure their data is not being collected.
Barton said a further "softening in Europe" appeared to be
occurring thanks to the DAA pledge to create a Do Not Track
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz earlier in the week commended the
progress the industry has made on this front, but said it was
clear more was needed.
Last year's findings from the FTC that Facebook and Google
engaged in deceptive privacy practices, and embarrassing
revelations that Internet companies secretly tracked the
locations of users, sold data to advertisers without the
knowledge of consumers and other blunders have not helped the
argument for self-regulation.
At stake is a billion-dollar industry. Advertising dollars
account for about 96 percent of Google's revenue and 85 percent
of Facebook's, financial statements and filings showed.
Data collection on the Internet allows advertisers to target
users in a demographic who are more likely to buy their product.
These ads often subsidize Web content.
"On issue after issue that is critical to our community, I
believe the Congress and the regulatory agencies are setting the
table for major action," said Dan Jaffe, ANA's vice president of
"We have learned that, if we're not at the table when it's
being set, we will be on the menu."
Jaffe said privacy and the future of advertising
self-regulation were among the top issues the trade group would
be focused on this year.
Particularly, the group will fight an EU push to move U.S.
data collection policy toward an opt-in system he said would
have a destructive impact on the growth of the Internet.
Reed Smith's Mushahwar said this is as much a legal clash as
it is a shake out of an economic model.
"Ultimately, what we don't want to have happen is moving
towards the European standard and then having companies that are
not able to optimize their websites and optimize their revenue,"