Yes We Can! (Solve the BT Privacy Challenge)
For those who missed the news, the privacy and consumer advocacy groups laid out a proposal which called on the Federal Trade Commission to establish a behavioral tracking registry not unlike the 'Do-Not-Call List' and to limit the storage of data used for online ad targeting to 24 hours, after which, it is destroyed unless users specifically approve additional use of the data.
After several conversations with colleagues in the Behavioral Targeting industry, it is clear to me that we're almost there. Though there are still some issues that need to be discussed, we finally have a framework which can serve as the beginning of a constructive, privacy-sensitive BT industry protocol.
There is a consensus among the BT industry colleagues that I speak with regularly that both the establishment of a 'Do-Not-Track List' and the prohibition of tracking activity in certain sensitive behavioral segments seems reasonable. Of course, for this to succeed, we need to define it as an industry to ensure that it's technically executable.
The bigger issue which I think needs to be addressed is the proposed 24 hour period during which it's permitted to use behavioral targeting data. Though the current 12 - 18 month period for using behavioral targeting data is too long, I believe we can achieve a satisfactory compromise for using behavioral targeting data for 1 - 2 months.
As an industry, my suggestions on what we need to do next are pretty straightforward:
1) Directly engage with these 10 groups. In order to close the loop on the "data timing" issue and move ahead on details and specifications of the other proposals, we as an industry should be engaging with these groups. I am not sure if any of the major industry trade groups have ever had direct, constructive discussions with any of these groups. Now that they have stated their case, maybe it is time.
2) Indicate to Washington that we are working directly with these groups to come up with a solution. It is time for the industry to control the debate - not the other way around. If we show D.C. that we are making a real, good faith effort to work with these groups, my gut tells me that they will lay off and let us work out the issues.
3) Jointly promote the new standards with voices from both sides of the debate with consumers. It may not be pretty, but partnering with privacy advocates to help generate understanding and an open dialog with consumers is the best way to ensure that consumers get a voice in this process.
Though none of what I indicated above will be easy, managing an industry through its adolescence never is. It will take all involved in the debate to stick their necks out a bit and take some risks. The results of success however, will be great.