The Better Business Bureau made its position clear: Publishers are just as responsible as advertisers for adhering to self-regulation guidelines for behavioral targeting.
The BBB says publishers are equally responsible for upholding consumer privacy rights if they allow third parties to collect data on their websites. “The third party has a responsibility, but so do [publishers],” Eugenie Barton, director of BBB's Online Internet-Based Advertising Accountability Program, said Tuesday at the OMMA Behavioral conference in New York. “We're taking the view that you guys have to figure out who's going to handle it, but we'll hold you both liable.”
Barton also said the BBB believes that self-regulatory efforts apply to the entire advertising industry — not just the trade groups that constructed the guiding principles. The organization plans to send more than 300 letters to advertising companies covered by the principles, asking whether they are in compliance, and if not, what path they plan to take to become compliant.
Barton said it's important for companies not participating in the self-regulatory program to let consumers know. And the BBB plans to publish names of companies not participating.
“We also plan to give their names to the FTC for whatever purpose,” she said. The FTC
doesn't have official regulations in place regarding self-regulation, but, she noted, “I have reason to think that this is an area where they will scrutinize companies' behavior.”
Panelists encouraged website publishers not to work with ad networks that aren't complying with regulation efforts. But just how many ad networks are out there to worry about? Jim Brock, founder and CEO of PrivacyChoice
, says a little more than half of all advertising companies have opt-outs for consumers that comply with the self-regulation efforts. PrivacyChoice offers tools for consumers to opt out of online advertising targeting.
Brock said that companies in the ad ecosystem (including publishers) have to take a stand against those that aren't complying with industry standards. “Every company that engages in the using or trading of data should have a policy that says, we don't deal with companies that don't [have an opt out option for consumers],” he said.
Earning consumer trust
The trust between consumers and website operators has been eroded, said Sal Tripi, senior director of operations and compliance at Publishers Clearing House
“The consumers do not trust the website operators. The trust ecosystem in the online environment has degraded to the point where consumers are not trusting the sites they are dealing with,” he said.
In order to deliver targeted, relevant content using behavioral targeting, websites will need to earn back that trust
, Tripi said.
“The only way to do it … is for the industry to set standards, to adhere to standards, and to refuse to work with those parties that don't adhere to those standards ― so I applaud the Better Business Bureau for publishing those names,” he said.
What consumers want
All of this talk about privacy seems to assume that consumers care whether their behavior is tracked and whether industry privacy standards exist. Research at Ball State University suggests that consumer interest in privacy depends on the situation, according to Michelle Prieb, project manager for Research and Communications at Ball State's Center for Media Design.
Regulation and industry standards don't necessarily solve the problem. “If consumers don't really understand what's going on, they're still going to be scared of it,” she said. She encourages companies to be upfront about consumer privacy in order to earn a market advantage.
For publishers, it's not easy to monitor that the ads served are protecting privacy, noted Tripi. “That's an awful lot of responsibility, but on the positive side … there a business value of providing this to consumers.”
Having the privacy icon on the Publisher's Clearinghouse website gives consumers a level of comfort ― “whether it's consciously or unconsciously,” he said. “We think there's real business value to doing that.”