By Lou Mastria
At a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing regarding interest-based advertising, we were all reminded of the importance and need for continued consumer and business education about how interest-based ads work, what choices consumers have in receiving them, and the benefits made possible by this thriving advertising ecosystem.
Truth be told, based on a Digital Advertising Alliance-commissioned poll, consumers understand why the internet is ad funded, and they hold pragmatic opinions about how it is funded – with an appreciation for interest-based ads in particular:
· 92 percent of Americans think free content like news, weather and blogs is important to the overall value of the Internet (64 percent extremely important, 28 percent somewhat important)
· 75 percent prefer ad supported content to paying for ad-free content
· 68 percent prefer to get at least some ads Internet directed at their interests
· 40 percent prefer to get all their ads directed to their interests
· 75 percent say they should be able to choose the ads they want to see as opposed to 11 percent who believe browser companies should, and 4 percent who say government should
Certainly, these attitudes of Americans should matter to regulators and lawmakers – and we believe, on the whole, they do. What we need on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is constructive dialogue on the essential elements of a successful self-regulation program – agreed to by the private sector, and commended by The White House– that has already been delivered.
Look at what we’ve achieved to date:
· The DAA Principles, our Self-Regulatory Program, and our consumer choice tool enforced by credible accountability programs are the only mechanisms in the marketplace today that provide consumers with clear transparency, choice, and understanding about how their data will and will not be used.
· Through more than 1 trillion ad impressions served each month with the DAA’s Advertising Option Icon (“DAA Icon”), consumers can access the DAA’s universal, easy-to-use choice mechanism via optout.aboutads.info and youradchoices.com/control.
· This choice tool provides consumers with a single button to exercise choice with respect to participating companies, either as a group or individually. When a consumer exercises choice – whether all participants or a few – our principles require stopping the collection and use of web viewing data from the user’s browser for interest-based advertising.
· Since the program’s launch in 2010, more than 23.5 million consumers have visited the DAA sites to learn about their advertising data choices, and, nearly 2 million consumers have taken action via DAA to exercise their choice about how advertisers will use their data.
“Cookies” are vital to the working of today’s Internet – and lawmakers should well know this. The amount of innovation and the diversity of content made possible by Digital Advertising Networks and the “third-party cookies” technology they use to enable interest-based advertising, is… well… limitless. We have a credible, accountable program in place to explain how and why interest-based advertising occurs – and tens of millions of consumers have made the effort to learn about it.
The White House and FTC were – and still are – very right to allow innovation to flourish in this way, because we have delivered. Policymakers should also know the impact of the Internet economy: a 2009 study found that more than three million Americans in every U.S. state are employed due to the advertising-supported Internet, contributing an estimated $300 billion, or approximately 2 percent, to our country’s GDP.
Yes, there may be concerns about the Internet. And, we have demonstrated time and again responsiveness to legislator and regulatory concerns — from our Self-Regulatory Principles for Multi-Site Data, to the Protect My Choices option on our Consumer Choice page, to our forthcoming mobile guidance for interest-based ads. Certainly consumers understand there are harmful areas that can happen in their digital lives – but being served interest-based advertising is not a chief concern by almost everyone:
On the other hand, the “Do Not Track” debate seriously needs a re-cast. “Do Not Harm” should be the mantra – Do not harm consumer choice. Do not harm Internet innovation. Do not harm the Internet economy. Do not harm transparency. And, of course, do not harm the consumer. Let’s put tracking in proper perspective – there is a huge difference between technologically following pages that a consumer visits in a de-identified manner so that a relevant ad on the computer screen can be placed there, versus internet stalking, hacking, government surveillance of ordinary citizens and malware. Americans can see the difference. Lawmakers and regulators should, too.