OPA President: FTC Proposal Both Encouraging and Concerning

As you may know, the FTC released a report this week proposing a framework for balancing consumer privacy and innovation online, whic...
OPA President: FTC Proposal Both Encouraging and Concerning
Written by Chris Crum
  • As you may know, the FTC released a report this week proposing a framework for balancing consumer privacy and innovation online, which includes (but is not limited to) a "do not track" mechanism in web browsers. Naturally, marketers have shown varying degrees of concern. Some are even calling the proposal a "Google Killer". 

    Pam Horan, President of the Online Publishers Association (OPA) shared her thoughts on the proposal with WebProNews. "There are elements of the report which we find encouraging and there are some which are concerning," she tells us.  

    If you’re unfamiliar with the OPA, it’s a non-profit trade group representing content providers like ABCNews.com, About.com, BBC.com, Bloomberg.com, CBS Interactive, CNBC, CNN.com, Comcast Interactive Media, Condé Nast, ConsumerReports.org, Disney Interactive Media, ESPN.com, Forbes.com, FoxNews.com, Gannett Digital, Gawker Media, Harvard Business Publishing, The Huffington Post, Hearst Coproration, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, and many more. 

    Pam Horan of the OPA Talks FTC proposal"What we find is encouraging is that the FTC reaffirmed many of the key elements of the FTC February 2009 Online Behavioral Advertising Principles that distinguishes the unique first party relationship publishers have with consumers," she adds. "In particular, the report clearly distinguishes that the collection and use of data for first party purposes is recognized as a commonly accepted practice. The staff report specifically notes that they believe that contextual advertising should fall within the commonly accepted practices category. This is the majority of advertising that OPA members serve."

    "We are very encouraged by the fact that the FTC clearly recognized that just like in the physical world, consumers have different types of relationships online," she continues, noting that, "As OPA’s online publishers share a direct and trusted relationship with visitors to their websites they support the FTC in their desire to not only educate the consumer, provide choice but also greater transparency across the industry."

    Yet there are still concerns. "Although we are encouraged by some elements of the report based on the fact that the FTC distinguish the first party relationships, we are concerned with the concept of Do Not Track if it impacts the first party," explains Horan. "There are significant unintended consequences that exist for publishers if the FTC pursues a universal choice mechanism which controls what first party data is collected."  
    As she outlines, "Cookies are critical to the operations of the publishers website including:

    – Capping the frequency with which an individual ad is displayed which benefits both advertisers and consumer

    – Analytics to measure audience size for reporting and inventory and planning campaigns

    – Execute the ad campaign in compliance with the contract for example you may have a campaign that is geographically targeted

    – Complying with legal requirements (for example, it may not be lawful to advertise a pharmaceutical product approved in the US to audiences in the UK)

    – Preventing click fraud

    – Synchronizing and sequencing creative content enabling an advertiser to tell a story through campaign elements that must unfold in a logical order."

    "For advertisers and everyone in the ecosystem, the FTC is encouraging us to provide education, transparency and control to the consumer," Horan concludes. "As an industry, we have a strong self regulatory program that includes advertisers and our ability to be active in implementation of the program is important so we can demonstrate to the FTC and lawmakers that we can successful self regulate."

    Oren Netzer, CEO of DoubleVerify, which provides online media verification to advertisers, agencies, ad networks and publishers, says, "The report is unclear in its definition of policy vs. law, as well as what constitutes ‘sensitive data’ and how a ‘do not track’ mechanism would and should be enforced." Netzer says however, that the consumer is bearing too much responsibility and the industry needs to do more. 

    As Cynthia Boris at MarketingPilgrim notes, online advertisers are already working on a self-policing program, but  "it looks like the federal government is going to have their say and their say trumps anything from the private sector." 

    The matter will be on major industry topic to keep an eye on. There’s no question about that. The proposal is open to public comment until the end of January. There is no shortage of commentary so far.

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