Data is the lifeblood of digital advertising. Data makes advertising more effective and efficient for brands, more valuable for publishers and content producers, and more relevant for internet users, helping them with their everyday needs and decisions. At the same time, the growing tide of data collection, use and exchange raises privacy concerns that industry must address if its true potential is to be realised for all.
Legislators and policy-makers need to recognise not only the global nature of this data, but the balance between advertising, which funds content and services for consumers, and safeguarding their privacy. IAB research shows that many UK consumers themselves recognise the need for this balance, but want to be informed and have control over their data.
This is the balance that has dictated the digital advertising industry’s approach in the last few years and as the market continues to evolve. In April 2011, the EU digital advertising sector published good practice aimed at giving consumers greater transparency and control over the data collected and used in behavioural or interest-based advertising. The EU initiative is aligned with the US and Canada, developing a global approach for both businesses and consumers.
At the heart of this work is a new symbol or icon that now appears in or around the ads on websites, as well as on web pages themselves. When a consumer clicks on the icon, he or she will be able to find out more about the information collected and used for this purpose. The icon will also link to ways for consumers to manage their interests, such as via privacy dashboards or ad preference managers. It will also link to a pan-European website now available in 26 different EU languages (www.youronlinechoices.eu) with helpful advice, tips to help protect privacy and a control page where ads aimed at your preferences, based upon previous browsing history, can be turned off.
While technology-neutral, the EU self-regulatory initiative was primarily designed for a desktop world and work is now underway to adapt it for the mobile environment, covering, for example, the use of location and cross-application data, to provide consumers with a consistent experience regardless of the device that they are using.
The EU initiative is backed up by robust compliance and enforcement. This includes a pan-European trust seal to demonstrate compliance to ad chain partners, as well as the “tried and tested” process of advertising self-regulatory bodies, such as the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), to provide consumers with independent recourse in the event of an unresolved complaint, backed by a set of robust sanctions.
Now that the ad industry has rolled out and implemented the icon in ads across markets, it has begun to embark on a campaign to make people more aware of what the icon means and what it does. In June 2013, the campaign began in the UK. Similar campaigns have been conducted in Germany and Ireland, and other markets will follow shortly.
Ad businesses across EU markets continue to invest in ways to give consumers more information and control and full compliance is becoming a reality with the new EDAA trust seal. But why should businesses participate? Privacy-enhancing solutions should be integrated into products to provide consumers with greater choice and control. And the ad market demands it: it is simply a “must” for ad businesses. Privacy will be a competitive factor and those that choose to show leadership now will benefit commercially in the longer run.