Battle Over Targeting Gets Passionate in DC

Written on
Dec 8, 2009 
Gavin Dunaway  |

ftc_smallADOTAS – “They’re keeping us busy in Washington these days,” Mike Zaneis, vice president of public policy with the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “There are always twists and turns.”

Zaneis was part of the standing-room-only crowd at the Federal Trade Commission’s “Exploring Privacy” public roundtable on Monday. It wasn’t surprising that the workshop attracted such a large group of spectators as the topic has been getting a lot of press lately — not the best kind either — with the digital advertising industry growing increasingly nervous about lawmakers and regulators disturbing the water.

While regulation and legislation still have a ways to go, neither privacy advocates nor industry representatives could claim victory at the roundtable, though both sides presented their cases with passion.

For Zaneis, the highlight was the third panel, when Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy and an outspoken online privacy advocate, and Berin Szoka, director of the Center for Internet Freedom at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, got into a 10-minute tete-a-tete on the importance of targeting in advertising as well as journalism.

Chester railed against targeting in general and called for a “citizen friendly” system while Szoka the importance of targeted advertising in funding high-cost content. Szoka argued that for users to access certain content at no cost, there is a trade-off in giving up certain types of data.

This was followed up by figures from Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, suggesting that by using the FTC’s definition of privacy principals, which might even drill down to frequency capping would include 70% to 80% of the online advertising industry, a figure far larger than the $1 billion normally tossed around.

While privacy advocates and academics were represented in force, executives from Google, Microsoft and WalMart, as well as smaller behavioral targeting companies, pleaded the industry’s case. Zaneis found WalMart’s presence particularly refreshing as e-tailers have not been in the forefront during this ordeal. The company obeys an extensive privacy policy when dealing with third parties.

Though the gap in views on regulation was wide, the two agreed on one thing: consumers are not well enough informed about how targeting works.

To that extent, the industry is stepping up — possibly too late — with initiatives such as IAB’s “Privacy Matters” campaign launched on Friday, which in addition to an educational website features a display campaign that directly addresses consumer fears with taglines such as “Advertising is creepy.” Zaneis noted that while some industry folks asked what that IAB was smoking when they came up with the campaign, but privacy advocates actually praised the IAB for such a bold statement. He said this was a sign they had pushed the envelope and reached across the aisle.

Zaneis called Tawakol’s explanation that targeting regulation would encompass most of the online advertising industry the “a-ha!” moment of the day. Privacy advocates didn’t have such a moment, he claimed; he didn’t hear a whole lot of new arguments.

“That makes me believe we have a good strategy — we’re debunking the scare tactics,” Zaneis said.

Gavin Dunaway is Editor, U.S. at AdMonsters, a leading trade publication, event producer and service provider for the online advertising industry. Previously, he had been Senior Editor of Adotas, where he arrived after years of ping-ponging around various industry publications. This Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate also enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

Reader Comments.

I wouldn’t have been able to read this article online for free if the ads next to it weren’t targeted. Doesn’t Washington have enough to do right now?

Posted by R.J. Lewis | 2:50 pm on December 8, 2009.

Privacy is the #1 concern of ad networks which is why behavioral data remains anonymous. it is important for users to understand this as well as other facts about online advertising which is why we fully support the IAB campaign:

Posted by Simon Chernin | 8:17 pm on December 8, 2009.

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