The new ad-targeting privacy bill offered by Rep. Bobby Rush is notable because, as reported by Mediapost, it reflects greater confidence in self-regulation. But before you start looking for common ground, consider this disturbing quote:
[IAB Executive] Zaneis questioned whether it made sense to enshrine into law a universal opt-out, such as the one offered through the Network Advertising Initiative. “The FTC hasn’t said that a universal opt-out is necessary,” Zaneis says. “It’s nice to have things like an NAI opt-out, but fundamentally flawed to say that you have to have a universal opt-out.”
It’s hard to conceive of a credible consumer privacy experience that does not include the ability to opt-out of targeting by all companies in a few clicks, as opposed to requiring consumers to chase down individual opt-outs from hundreds of companies. Reputable targeting companies already provide a universal opt-out, and we provide an even more universal opt-out at PrivacyChoice. Making it a requirement is a reasonable price to pay for the self-regulatory freedom otherwise offered by the Rush bill, including immunity from a private right of action.
Maybe Mr. Zaneis is just positioning for the coming negotiation. Or perhaps the fear is that the FTC will require a more effective and durable form of opt-out, perhaps based on Flash cookies or preference setting that is better integrated with browser tools. Maybe Better Advertising would provide the ability to download Ghostery — which can completely block tracking for ads — on every enhanced notice page. Hmmm.
Here’s my (unsolicited) advice for the IAB: Don’t fear the opt-out. We have enough experience with opt-outs to know that only a very small percentage of users avail themselves of it, but far more consumers (and advertisers) will take assurance from truly easy and effective consumer choices. But this means sincerely embracing a great consumer privacy experience for targeted ads. A great experience involves durable preference setting in just a few clicks, it’s that simple. The good news for the industry is that, in the long run, enhanced notice and choice will and should become a platform for deeper engagement with consumers.
The universal opt-out is table stakes. Far more interesting topics are what companies will need to show consumers about their own profiles, and what kind of back-end oversight is needed to ensure that those profiles are only used as promised. The sooner this debate gets around to those questions, the quicker self-regulation will be a reality.