The Association of National Advertisers is concerned that revelations of Cambridge Analytica's data harvesting from Facebook will result in hurried privacy laws.
"Sometimes the cure can make the disease worse," ANA executive vice president of government relations Dan Jaffe tells MediaPost. "What we do should be very, very carefully thought out."
Federal lawmakers recently introduced two separate bills that could require companies to obtain consumers' explicit consent to the collection or use of their information. The newest of the proposals, the CONSENT (Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions) Act, unveiled last week by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), would also require web companies to develop reasonable security practices and to notify users about data breaches.
Various states are also considering privacy laws.
One effort that has attracted particular attention is the Consumer Right to Privacy Act, a California ballot initiative that would give consumers the right to learn the "categories" of personal information collected and shared about them by all companies, brick-and-mortar as well as online. The proposed measure also gives consumers the right to prevent that data from being shared. Backers say they expect to garner the 365,880 signatures needed for the measure to appear on the ballot this November.
Jaffe says that the ANA plans to become active with a coalition opposing the initiative, which he says would result in an "extraordinarily disadvantageous" situation for companies.
Google, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T recently contributed $200,000 each to a coalition that's fighting the California proposal. Last week, in the wake of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress, a spokesman said Facebook will instead "focus our efforts on supporting reasonable privacy measures in California."
While lawmakers have proposed privacy measures before, revelations that President Trump's consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, obtained data from up to 87 million Facebook users appear to have given the efforts new momentum.
Jaffe adds that the ANA will urge lawmakers to wait and see what develops in Europe, which will be subject to a new privacy regime in May when the General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect. The GDPR will broadly require companies to obtain consumers' consent to the use of their data, but it's still unclear how EU regulators will interpret the measure.
"We can learn from other people's wisdom, and can also learn from other people's mistakes," Jaffe says. "They're going to go through the land mines, and will probably step on a few."
The ANA sounded the alarm about the proposals in a blog post this week. "U.S. companies continue to be the clear leaders in the worldwide digital economy. Consequently, we should be extremely careful to avoid any proposed steps that could hobble or undermine this sector," Jaffe wrote.