Online Privacy: IAB Pushes For Self-Reg

Eileen Harrington of FTCThe Interactive Advertising Bureau continues to push for an industry self-regulatory body to police consumer online privacy, but it's unlikely that the entity would actually be housed within the IAB, Mike Zaneis, vice president, Public Policy of the IAB said at the conclusion of OMMA Global's "Bad Science" panel. If the industry fails, regulators will pass new public policy forcing it to, a top federal regulator warned.

"The IAB takes the self-regulatory program very seriously," Zaneis said, adding that conversations continue with various other trade organizations--presumably alluding to the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

"You need everybody sitting at the table--advertisers, agencies, others," he said, adding: "I don't have an announcement today, but we continue to move along in the discussions."

Zaneis said the IAB "probably is not the right organization" to actually administer the program, and that it would be better to have it affiliated with an entity that has "a connection to law enforcement."

The current debate mirrors a similar, now-defunct debate of the late 1990s concerning "online profiling," said Eileen Harrington, deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission. The "big difference," she added, is, well, "everything."

"It's the same issue. What's really changed, really, is everything," she said, citing "the frequency, the volume, the techniques, the uses. Everything. It's really exploded."

In fact, Harrington characterized the current debate as "the juicy policy issue in Washington" right now, and warned that if self-regulatory business models are not developed by the only industry that gives consumers better control of their data and knowledge about how it is being used, regulation will be passed to enforce it.

Harrington was hopeful that the online industry could accomplish that--citing successful self-regulatory initiatives developed by the advertising industry during the 20th century, including the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division, which mediates and polices competitive claims and consumer fraud in advertising campaigns.

"Meaningful self-regulation," she said, "includes policing."

Harrington feared that unless the industry takes proactive action, the current debate would result in the same kind of regulation that led to the government's Do-Not-Call list, which enables consumers to permanently de-list themselves from telemarketing offers.

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