Can media companies defend their online advertising practices? At the Business Insider IGNITION conference Friday in New York, media executives opined about the FTC's proposed guidelines for consumer privacy.
Some acknowledged that efforts to self-regulate behavioral data practices to protect consumer privacy haven't been enough. The “wake-up call” and “call to action” phrases were thrown around a lot.
“I'm a huge believer in self-regulation and that the industry has to mind it's back yard, but there are bad actors,” said Tina Sharkey, international president and chariman of BabyCenter LLC
and a board member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau
, speaking on a panel. “None of them are on this stage and hopefully none of them are in this room or in this building, but they spoil it.”
She noted that the digital media industry isn't represented in Washington as much as other media, and therefore needs to work harder to help educate Washington on the complicated issue. "I believe the industry has to band together; we have to have a very active voice in Washington, and the IAB I think is doing tremendous work in that regard, but we have to support them,” she said.
“I think the 'reefer madness,' panic side of the issue has gotten more attention in the press,” said Erin McPherson, head of originals and video programming at Yahoo!
. Publishers cautious about privacy need to band together to “fulfill the promise of the Internet
, which is the openness,” she said.
Deanna Brown, president and COO of Federated Media
, agreed the media needs to do a better job demonstrated the benefits of being public. “We've ignored it and it's now time to take action,” she said.
Kirk McDonald, president of Time Inc.
Digital, noted that the FTC was far from definitive on Wednesday, and so the media industry is still waiting to see an outcome.
“More than anything else I think it's a little bit of a wake-up call. If the industry really wants self-regulation, then, really, let's move faster toward [self-]regulation,” he said. “We've been talking about it for two years now, so it's time to do something.”
The effect of privacy legislation
As industry organizations have warned
, if enacted, privacy legislation could have far-reaching consequences. When asked on a panel what would happen if the government did enact privacy legislation, McDonald said: “It would change the consumer experience of the content we deliver them today.”
"There are implications to what happens if you have Congressional legislation in this field that go well beyond just the privacy issue, goes right to the economics of all the trends in Web advertising and Web content today,” he said. “For those reasons, we love that the debate is ongoing and look forward to a balanced outcome.”
He said he couldn't quantify the effect it would have on advertising. Time Inc. does both contextual and behavioral ad targeting, so the dollars could switch to the contextual side.
Many interested parties say the solution is to give consumers options to control data (not just a blanket opt-out like the FTC proposes). Publishers are already implementing tools from vendors like Better Advertising
to enable this.
Jim Spanfeller, founder of Spanfeller Media Group
and former Forbes.com CEO, said giving consumers control over data is in keeping with a trend toward giving consumers options in general — e.g. to select the topics they want and the device where they consume. “I think this is just another evolution of that: The end user should be able to decide through transparency ... what they want to do in terms of sharing data,” he said. “My guess is we'll reach some situation where there'll be some kind of value-add for the end user for allowing their data to be shared, in which case all parties will be well-served.”