Companies found in violation of behavioral advertising guidelines could be exposed publicly.
The Direct Marketing Association, the trade group overseeing the online ad industry's self-regulatory regime, is officially enforcing compliance with the online ad icon program. The organization believes the program, developed in conjunction with several trade groups under the Digital Advertising Alliance umbrella, qualifies as a do-not-track system. Violators could be publicly exposed.
The DMA will now require its members to include the ad icon in online ads targeted through behavioral data. The icon links to information about how the ad was delivered and allows people to click to opt-out from behavioral targeting.
"We will shame companies. We will embarrass companies, but that's not the goal," said Linda Woolley, DMA's EVP of government affairs, noting that if DMA members do not abide by the guidelines, the organization will publicize the violation. There are no penalties or fines associated with non-compliance, but companies could eventually be kicked out of the DMA for violating the rules.
Even firms that are not DMA members could be exposed if they violate the self-regulatory requirements, said Woolley. In the case of non-members that are persistently non-compliant, the DMA would refer those companies to the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC in December bemoaned the industry's lack of progress on implementing a robust self-regulatory program for protecting consumer privacy when it comes to online behavioral advertising. In a report released by the FTC at the time, the agency supported the creation of a browser-based do-not-track mechanism, calling it "the most practical method" of providing universal choice to consumers regarding use of their online data for ad targeting.
"We think that this is do-not-track," said Woolley of the alliance's self-regulatory program. The FTC "talks a lot about transparency and choice and ease of use and we believe that the advertising option icon embodies all the things the FTC asked for."
"It's a good first step," said Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of the Online Trust Alliance. The OTA is a membership organization that includes a variety of companies operating in the digital arena, including eBay, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Symantec, and certified ad alliance program vendors Evidon and TRUSTe, according to Spiezle.
Spiezle believes the FTC is also concerned with privacy and security when it comes to data tracking and sharing associated with online advertising. "If you get down to the core issues of what consumers are concerned about," he said, "the overall element is about the collection of data, the usage of data and sharing."
Currently, ad verification company DoubleVerify is voluntarily providing the DMA with a list of clients using its compliance services, according to company CEO Oren Netzer. Woolley expects other firms to provide clients lists also, in an effort to assist the DMA in monitoring industry for compliance. In addition to DoubleVerify, Evidon and TRUSTe are certified by the alliance to enable inclusion of the icon in ads and offer related compliance services.
"Our first effort out of the box is to contact companies and ask, 'Did you know? Are you aware [of the new requirements]?'" said Woolley. Companies found in violation of the self-regulatory guidelines will be given a chance to mend their ways before any public action is taken against them, Woolley explained, noting that the process put in place by the DMA is the same used for all marketing channels including direct mail, and is based on the FTC's own process for monitoring corporate practices. There will be a "grace period for companies that really didn't know that this is going on," she said.
Still, Wooley believes most companies involved in online advertising are aware of the DMA's new requirements and should already have been gearing up for compliance. For instance, in addition to other organizations in the alliance conducting education efforts for their members, Wooley said she has been "on a mini-speaking circuit to other trade associations" including the Online Publishers Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation.
Woolley also aims to spread the word overseas. "Especially with brands that are global marketers, compliance is really essential," she said, adding that "ubiquitous compliance" throughout the European Union and other regions "is the way to go." As part of that global initiative, Woolley has "had many conversations" with foreign DMAs and "encouraged them to adopt our program as we've laid it out."
The FTC is accepting comments on its privacy report calling for do-not-track. Since the report was released, Woolley said the DMA has been in contact with the FTC.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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