NAI Executive Director – Let’s Talk Privacy

I’m two months into my tenure as executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, a coalition of over 85 leading online advertising companies committed to developing and enforcing industry best practices for interest-based advertising. And what a two months it has been. The NAI released its 2011 compliance report; privacy issues made the news almost weekly; the Digital Advertising Alliance launched a professionally-developed education campaign to promote the in-ad Advertising Options Icon; and the Obama Administration released its much-anticipated privacy report. That report includes a thoughtful, well-developed, and comprehensive Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that is designed to serve as a blueprint for privacy in the information age. It also encourages industry stakeholders to implement flexible, scalable, and enforceable codes of conduct that embrace these consumer rights.

What an exciting time for the online advertising industry and consumers alike. I know that I’m excited! The release of the Administration’s privacy report and the Administration’s praise for industry’s self-regulatory efforts to date are welcome developments. NAI has been a leader in those efforts and it was gratifying to hear the Commerce Secretary and the Federal Trade Commission chairman acknowledge and compliment our industry’s tremendous efforts to promote transparency, consumer choice, and best practices for online advertising.

As a DAA member, it was a great day for our consumer opt-out choice program and its progress. As NAI executive director, I see a great future for interest-based advertising and the rapidly evolving, innovative business models constantly being rolled out by our member companies. I also see a tremendous amount of work; we are full speed ahead, with a focus on the following:

Inclusion. The White House report is clear that as current codes of conduct evolve and new codes develop, all stakeholders must be part of the dialogue through a transparent and open process. At the NAI we have encouraged this and we look forward to engaging in a productive conversation with all stakeholders in the online advertising ecosystem – consumer groups, privacy advocates, regulators, trade associations, and companies pursuing different business models. Genuine inclusion and transparency cannot end with a nice statement and a promise. And at the NAI it won’t. We welcome a robust conversation with privacy advocates and others on how we can improve and perhaps expand the NAI Code of Conduct.

Self-regulation. What was somewhat dramatic about the White House event was the resounding endorsement of self-regulation. To be sure, the report does endorse a legislative solution, but even that embraces industry codes of conduct and safe harbors as a core part of the framework. The comments made both in print and in person recognize the critical and necessary role of industry self-regulation – as long as self-regulation is transparent and backed up by tough enforcement. That’s music to my ears because that is the objective of NAI and at the core of our plans moving forward. I think last week’s event is recognition that the industry has made significant progress over the past years. We have a comprehensive code that, not surprisingly, lines up fairly well with the new Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; we monitor compliance with that code, and we sanction companies when necessary and appropriate. Bottom line: the NAI and its members have been for the most part compliant as a result of an intense commitment to each other, the NAI Code, and consumers.

Next steps. Nothing I heard last week has altered our plans or objectives at NAI. We are going to stay the course. Our plans include updating the NAI Code to take into account rapidly evolving business models, new technologies, and yes, the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. We’ll do this with transparency and with everyone at the table who wishes to be there. We’ll be active participants in the DAA as that program seeks to expand and offer consumers new and better tools to make choices. We also plan to expand our compliance team, add new technical monitoring tools to our already robust compliance program, and revamp the NAI website to make it more user friendly for consumers. And we’ll participate in the Administration’s multi-stakeholder process as appropriate. The future for online advertising is bright, the possibilities are endless, and the ultimate beneficiary of all of these efforts will be the American consumer.

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