Europe Increases Pressure on Online Ad Industry

Today a Do Not Track Kids bill was promoted in Washington, D.C. by TV host Nick Cannon, as European regulators are cracking down on online privacy on their side of the Atlantic. A letter sent by the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s European arm adds yet another wrinkle to the developing story.

The Working Party, an assembly of data privacy representatives from EU member states, sent a letter on March 1 to European ad industry self-regulatory bodies IAB Europe and the European Advertising Standards Alliance, along with the broader online behavioral advertising industry. The missive reiterates concerns WP 29 has regarding the industry groups’ code of conduct for online ad privacy.

“[W]e have to repeat that the current approach of the Code of Conduct does not meet the consent and information requirements of the revised ePrivacy Directive,” stated the letter.

WP 29 – like the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce here in the U.S. – would prefer that the system be offered through a browser-based tool. Also, the group wants to ensure that when people opt-out through such a system, all tracking is disabled, in addition to ad serving. “It must be clear that data from a user with an active DNT-setting cannot be used for purposes such as ‘market research’ and ‘product development,’ ” noted the letter.

WP 29, which is an advisory group, also suggested that to reach that goal, the IAB and EASA should “constructively contribute to the standard-setting group W3C,” the World Wide Web Consortium, an international body that develops web standards.

“We are part of W3C,” Kimon Zorbas, IAB Europe VP, told ClickZ News. “We’re going to contribute to W3C to make sure consumers are offered good solutions.” Zorbas stressed the need for a program that works across Europe rather than confusing them with multiple single-country approaches.

In January, Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission, called for a global do-not-track framework. The standard should be suitable for all providers of digital goods and services and satisfy laws around the world, she said, calling for an agreement on the DNT standard by June.

In February, the Commerce Department joined with the ad industry’s self-regulatory privacy coalition – the Digital Advertising Alliance – and Federal Trade Commission to plan for a browser-based do not track standard. The DAA is the coalition of ad industry trade groups running the AboutAds system, which features markers in online ads notifying consumers when an ad has been targeted and served based on behavioral or other data. Now, a European version of the organization is operating a similar program.

“In Europe we are just setting up the European version of it,” said Zorbas of the DAA program, noting the self regulatory coalition aims to “make it work in a global context.” The Commerce Department also has emphasized the need for a program that works worldwide.

Despite the self-regulatory progress, recent pressure from U.S. and European government bodies is intensifying. For instance, a celebrity spokesman could help build momentum behind the Do Not Track Kids Act, one of several privacy bills pending in congress. America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon joined U.S. Representatives Ed Markey and Joe Barton this afternoon at a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the legislation.

“I’m joining @MarkeyMemo & @RepJoeBarton tomorrow for online #kidsprivacy congressional briefing http://ncannon.is/wKaM2R RT!” wrote Cannon on his Twitter feed, which has more than 3 million followers.

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