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Don't let online be stifled by public demand

Xuhui Shao
Don't let online be stifled by public demand Xuhui Shao

Two recent developments have me thinking about the industry's level of privacy involvement and what it means for our future. As a member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), I received an email informing me that the IAB's VP of public policy, Michael Zaneis, testified before the U.S. Congress to state concern about the privacy bills that hamper the ad-supported internet. More recently, The Wall Street Journal published a "What They Know" series, which is very critical of many forms of internet-tracking technology. It seems as if a noose is tightening around the online ecosystem's potential for being a major engine of economic growth. As an industry, we need to act aggressively to ensure this potential is actualized, not extinguished.

The digital media business is among the most competitive industries out there. We're all striving to deliver best-in-breed solutions and top-performing campaigns, and to gain market share. But, when it comes to the privacy issue (for the most part), we play for the same team. My hat is off to supporters such as the IAB, Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for their continuous efforts to preserve our online ecosystem. While these organizations go to bat for us, there are things that we ourselves can do to maintain consumer trust and sustained growth in a self-regulated environment. Here are five ways to get your organization ahead in terms of consumer privacy protection:

Conduct evaluations to understand your level of privacy
Take time to conduct a self-audit to determine your level of privacy compliance. Organizations such as the NAI and DMA offer such guidelines for managing privacy. Ask yourself: Does your company disclose privacy policies on its website? Do you offer opt-out options for consumers regarding data collection? Are you using online behavioral advertising segments that specifically target sensitive information or children? Do your contracts clearly describe what and how you share data with third parties for advertising purposes? 

A more comprehensive approach is to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) by a legal expert practicing in the area of consumer privacy and compliance in order to identify what areas need to be enhanced to meet current and anticipated FTC guidelines.

Provide transparency to consumers around data and targeting
Companies can gain a lot of trust from consumer watch groups and government regulators here and abroad by disclosing their data collection and interests-based targeting practices. You can start by posting these practices in the privacy policy section on your website or blog. Also make your privacy policy easy to read, and make sure it is prominently linked to informative and up-to-date information. Nothing says "sneaky" more loudly than hiding key information in the fine print.

Monitor and evaluate partner relationships
To create a strong foundation for privacy, it is critical to ensure partners within your supply chain are in good health in terms of privacy protection. Make privacy compliance a prerequisite when screening for new vendors. Specific tactics might include incorporating an engineer on the screening call to deep-dive into the technical details of how data are collected and used in the context of consumer privacy. Also, ask how vendors are involved in privacy-focused industry organizations. If they aren't involved, inquire about what alternatives are they using to protect their investment and yours.

Familiarize yourself with privacy solutions
For more proactive approaches, get involved in the enhanced notice and choice solutions such as the one associated with the Advertising Option icon. The icon is a new tool to communicate vital facts about privacy and how or why an ad was delivered to the end consumer. As more implementation details are being worked out, it can also provide clear explanations for targeting, along with links and landing pages to help consumers manage their preferences and opt-out/opt-in choices. One good way to get a jump start in this area is to get educated by specialized solution providers such as Better Advertising, or TrustE if you're a publisher.

Get involved with trade organizations
Join industry organizations committed to consumer privacy. Organizations such as the NAI, AAAA, DMA, ANA, IAB, and BBB offer various ways to get involved. Talk to the one most appropriate for your business and ask for privacy-focused projects and work groups. For example, NAI and IAB both have ongoing consumer privacy education campaigns open to industry players. Government regulators from both sides of the pond have expressed publicly and privately many times they do give "brownie points" to companies making extra effort in self regulation.

I expect that we will continue to hear from the reps in Washington and be challenged by consumer advocacy groups. The future of advertising lies in a healthy self-regulated environment. With the right investments in transparency and privacy, online advertising will remain well positioned to continue to innovate, grow, and provide value in the media marketplace. Together, if we act responsibly, we can act on behalf of consumer privacy and see tremendous economic growth.

Xuhui Shao is chief technology officer at Turn

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