It’s Not Wonderful to Imagine a World without Self-Regulation

February 25, 2019

Let’s take an “It’s a Wonderful Life” test to see what-could-have-been scenarios.

There’s been some discussion over the last week about the effectiveness our current self-regulatory regime for digital interest-based advertising. There is always room for improvement, a goal toward which the digital advertising industry continually works collaboratively with policymakers (and which has resulted in policy updates every two years to keep pace with this rapidly-evolving medium).

 

More importantly, an objective historical review would recognize the tremendous success of the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) YourAdChoices program in advancing consumer privacy while preserving innovation over the last ten years.

 

Because it’s difficult to judge the value of any program in the abstract, let’s apply the “It’s a Wonderful Life” test from Frank Capra’s iconic movie to consider how digital advertising might work for a modern George Bailey without the DAA’s self-regulatory program.

 

Put simply, it would be a very different – and less consumer-friendly – world.

 

Movie Still - It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Credit: Movie Still, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)

 

Awakening to a world without self-regulation, George went about his normal daily activities online. Almost immediately, he starts getting advertisements related to a prescription for a sensitive medical condition he recently discovered.

 

[Without the DAA, there is no Principle prohibiting the use of this type of sensitive data for interest-based advertising without consent.] 

 

George wants to find out why he’s getting such advertisements, so he looks for the familiar blue DAA YourAdChoices icon in the ad, but he can’t find it anywhere.

 

[Without the DAA, the industry never would had adopted the YourAdChoices icon, where consumers could get information and choice about interest-based ads from the ads themselves. In the current world, that YourAdChoices icon is served more than a trillion times a month worldwide, across desktop, video and mobile devices.]

 

Unable to find information from the ads themselves, he starts digging through the privacy policies of the pages on which they appeared. He doesn’t have ready access to advertising policies or choices about data collection and use, instead, he is forced to read the entire policy, and George can find no information or choices about the networks delivering the ads.

 

[Without icon-based information, users would be forced to dig through numerous privacy policies instead. Worse, those policies would not be required to offer access to the ad networks providing interest-based ads on each site, or offer control over those ads.]

 

Increasingly frustrated and angry, George searches for a simple way to opt-out of receiving interest-based advertising. With a search engine, he builds a list of scores of different ad networks and other providers of ad services, and he starts visiting those sites one at a time to opt-out. His mood worsens, as he realizes the process could take hours, given that each site requires a separate visit and different opt-out steps.

 

[Without the DAA’s YourAdChoices platform and its WebChoices and AppChoices tools, there is no central location to find all of the companies involved in interest-based advertising or a way to opt-out from any or all of them with just a few clicks.]

 

Now moving from anger to action, George decides to file a complaint against the website on which he received the ad for not providing a link to its privacy policy or notice of the interest-based advertising on the site. After researching the issue in his new world, he sadly realizes there is likely no grounds to file such complaints and no industry group to handle them.

 

[Without the DAA Principles, and the DAA’s accountability program, there would not have independent compliance partners to investigate and enforce such Principles. The DAA’s independent compliance programs have resulted in more than 95 publicly-announced compliance actions -- against both DAA participating companies and non-participants (big, small, social media, publishers, ad tech, brands, agencies, apps, etc.) -- all of which can be found in the DAA’s annual casebook of actions, published to educate businesses.]

 

Now disheartened and despondent, George decides to unplug from the digital ecosystem, despite the value and happiness it gives him. He walks downstairs to get his postal mail and finds a notice from his insurance company rejecting him for a pending application based on the interest-based data about his new health condition.

 

[The DAA Principles prohibit the collection, use or transfer of data from across sites and apps for a range of purposes, including eligibility for employment, credit, health care, or insurance.]

 

Happily, we can ring the angel’s bell, as that’s not our world today. A decade ago, all of the major associations in digital advertising joined together to create the Digital Advertising Alliance and provide consumers with the information and control they should have over interest-based advertising, a self-regulatory program that has been an increasingly global model for effectiveness.

 

We are hopeful Congress will look to this unique, novel and effective self-regulatory model as lawmakers work with stakeholders to build a national policy for consumer privacy. 

 

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