IAB Europe Tightens Focus on Privacy and Regulation

clickz_ukandeu.gifThe IAB Europe says it is now focusing its efforts, and the majority of its resources, on addressing the regulatory challenges currently facing the European online advertising industry.

At the Interact Congress hosted by the pan-regional trade body in Brussels last week, the issue of regulation, specifically with regards to online privacy and data collection, was a recurring theme. It reared its head in almost every panel session throughout the day.

In response to increased scrutiny from European lawmakers and subsequent concern from industry, the IAB Europe says it is now dedicating the majority of its resources to the area in attempt to stave off formal regulation.

Speaking with ClickZ News, IAB President Alain Heureux said, “We need to convince [European lawmakers] that self-regulation is the way forward. You cannot regulate an industry that is growing and moving so quickly that way. It takes years to pass new laws.” He added, “Regulatory issues are almost our sole focus, and the majority of our resources are dedicated to that area.”

Over the past two years, the European Commission has paid increased attention to the online advertising space, perhaps instigated by its anti-trust investigation into Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007. Since that acquisition was announced, the Commission has held a number of events designed to further familiarize itself with the industry, and has even launched legal proceedings against the U.K. government for failing to implement European law regarding customer trials of behavioral targeting technology from Phorm.

Heureux recognizes the privacy issue is currently high on the Commission’s list, but believes it is essential for bodies such as the IAB Europe to engage with and educate lawmakers to ensure continued industry growth. To aid this, the trade body is in the process of conducting a survey of over 30,000 European consumers, designed to evaluate attitudes and views towards issues such as data collection. Heureux said he hopes the results, due in September, will help “represent the missing voice and opinion of the consumer.”

Comments from John Mangelaars, Microsoft’s regional VP consumer and online International division for EMEA, suggested that such research would be useful in highlighting the often complicated relationship between the consumer and their personal information.

“I can’t solve the privacy problem in this room, but consumers will decide at the end of the day,” he said. “Things will find a balance. There seems to be this schizophrenic thing about privacy at the moment. People talk about privacy, but then post all their pictures on Facebook.”

Going Forward, Heureux placed emphasis on further expanding the IAB network across Europe. National IAB members currently stand at 19, but he hopes to extend this to 25 by the end of the year. From a legal perspective, he said it is important to ensure that all European parties, even the smaller countries, are represented. From there, he hopes that IAB Europe can provide a “legal backbone driven by IAB Europe”, but aided by local IAB’s throughout the continent.

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