The advertising industry is forming a new organization that aims to convince browser and platform developers, including Google and Apple, to reconsider recent decisions that could limit ad companies' ability to track people across websites and apps.
The governing group of the new Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media will be made up of representatives from major industry organizations (including the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative), advertisers (including Ford, General Motors, IBM, Procter & Gamble and Unilever), agencies (IPG Mediabrands' UM and Publicis Media), NBC Universal and ad-tech companies (Adobe, MediaMath, The Trade Desk).
The organization says it wants to "advance and protect" ad companies' ability to serve personalized digital ads and collect data used for analytics, while also "safeguarding privacy and improving the consumer experience."
The group will soon reach out to browser developers and platforms, in hopes of convincing them to rethink recent decisions that will limit tracking, according to Venable attorney Stu Ingis, who will head the legal and policy working group.
“These companies are taking huge positions that impact the entire economy -- the entire media eco-system -- with no real input from the media ecosystem,” Ingis says.
“If the assertion is that there needs to be more privacy, that ought to be talked through in a very concrete way,” he adds.
ANA group Executive Vice President Bill Tucker will serve as executive director of the new organization, and Dennis Buchheim, president of IAB Tech Lab, will oversee technical standards.
The initiative comes as Google and Apple are preparing new measures to restrict tracking.
Google recently said it plans to configure the Chrome browser by 2022 to block cookies set by ad-tech companies and other third parties.
Apple's upcoming operating system, slated for release this autumn, will inform consumers when an app wants to track them for ad purposes, and will ask people to either allow or prohibit tracking by that app.
The upcoming system, like previous ones, will include Apple's “identifier for advertising” -- an alphanumeric string that allows developers to track mobile users across different apps.
While Apple consumers have long been able to activate a "limit ad tracking” command, that control has historically been buried in the privacy settings. But the next operating system will show users a permission screen that asks them to either agree to tracking or reject it, on a case-by-case basis.
One of the new organization's short-term goals is to convince Apple to delay that change, pending further discussion, Ingis says,.
“We will reach out to the platforms and browser companies in a positive way about coming to the table to work out solutions to whatever problems we're defining,” he says.
It's not yet clear what, if any, privacy standards the new organization will propose.
The ad industry's existing privacy code essentially requires companies to inform consumers about how their behavior across sites and apps is tracked, and allow consumers to opt out of receiving ads based on “non-sensitive” data collected across sites and apps. (The self-regulatory principles require opt-in consent for the collection of certain types of "sensitive" data, such as precise geolocation information.)
Ingis says the ad industry “has a completely open mind on additional pseudonymity protections.”
The industry has historically argued that much tracking data -- such as data collected via cookies -- is not personally identifiable. But privacy advocates often argue that even pseudonymous data can be tied to personally identifiable data.
Ingis said the ad industry may consider limiting data retention, narrowing the purposes for which data can be used by advertisers, and new protections for sensitive data. He also suggested browser developers could work with the ad industry to develop identifiers other than cookies.
Ingis added that the ad industry might push for new legal restrictions on developers of browsers and platforms, if they follow through on plans to restrict tracking.
“If the platforms or browsers are not going to work with the rest of the ecosystem, there's going to need to be regulation,” he added.
But it's not clear whether that kind of regulation is plausible, especially given that some states have been passing laws that restrict data collection -- like California's new Consumer Privacy Act and Maine's broadband privacy law.
Privacy advocate Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy for Consumer Reports, expressed skepticism that the new organization would be able to buck current trends.
“The writing's on the wall that a lot of online ad tracking is going away,” he says.
This is an extremely important step to take. Privacy is of course one of the utmost concerns we all have in this space, and while consumer privacy has certainly been tested, the reality is there are wasy to ensure privacy while also improving the overall customer experience. "Tracking" doesn't have to be turned into a four-letter-word. The approaches most vendors take these days isn't malicious in design but instead aims to streamline customer experiences by improving ad serves and conversion paths. Let's get all players on board with a new and improved approach.