Ad Groups Tout Self-Regulation To White House

The government's ability to snoop on consumers poses very different policy issues than ad companies' use of data for marketing purposes. So say the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Association of National Advertisers, both of which filed comments this week with the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“The government’s access to and use of data raises unique constitutional concerns that require significant oversight ... to ensure compliance with obligations and limitations intended to protect against governmental abuses of power,” the IAB says in papers sent to John Podesta and Nicole Wong, the Obama Administration officials who are examining policies toward Big Data.

The IAB, like others in the ad industry, says it opposes new rules that would limit companies' ability to use data for marketing. 

“IAB supports efforts to clarify how and when government may access private citizen data and communications. The private sector does not require such a heavy-handed approach,” the industry group adds. “Unlike government access and use, consumers have a choice regarding business practices. Coupled with the strong privacy regulations that exist today, self-regulatory programs can adequately meet evolving consumer privacy expectations in the digital marketplace.”



The Association of National Advertisers, likewise, says no new laws are needed to regulate the commercial use of data. “It is difficult to see how broad or comprehensive new privacy laws or regulations at the present time could keep pace with the revolutionary and extraordinarily rapid transformation of the Internet and other new media technologies,” the ANA says in its filing. That group adds that most data collected for marketing purposes is “anonymous or anonymized and is not sensitive information.”

The ANA, too, asks the administration not to conflate fears about commercial privacy with concerns about surveillance by the National Security Agency. “The privacy issues in these two areas are very distinct and deserve careful separate consideration,” the ANA writes.

But privacy advocates and consumer groups say that the White House's review should encompass commercial data collection practices. “While we acknowledge the many positive uses of Big Data, and its potential, the Administration should not gloss over the threats as well,” the Center for Digital Democracy says in its papers. “We fear that missing for the most part in the White House’s review will be a fact-based assessment of actual commercial data practices conducted by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, data brokers, and many others. Such a review would reveal an out-of-control commercial data collection apparatus, with no restraints, and which is leading to a commercial surveillance complex that should be antithetical in a democratic society.”

The CDD also calls the industry's self-regulatory efforts a failure. Current self-regulatory codes call for companies to let people opt out of receiving targeted ads. “When the default is collection and use, which is how the online medium has been purposefully structured, it’s not practical for consumers to try to 'turn off' the data machine,” the group writes. “There have to be regulatory rules that limit the collection of data and empower individuals to make their own privacy decisions.”

Nearly two dozen organizations -- including Consumer Watchdog, American Library Association, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Public Citizen -- filed papers calling for the task force to incorporate fair information principles in its final report. Among other items, those principles call for consumers to wield control over collection and use of the data they create.


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