On Thursday during Advertising Week in New York City, I hosted an event called “Mission Impossible: Truth & Privacy – The Future is Now,” featuring Commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission, along with Frank Abagnale, one of the world’s foremost authorities on fraud and identity theft (you may know him best from the film Catch Me If You Can – he was portrayed by none other than Leonardo DiCaprio), and Jonathan Salem Baskin, Co-Author of Tell The Truth. Privacy is an issue everyone is talking about these days, and I wanted to share with you some of the thoughts and issues discussed during the session at Advertising Week. Click here to view a video of Ron’s conversation with FTC Commissioner Julie Brill.
Advertising is a fascinating and complex industry, reflecting the latest innovations, the newest technologies, and, of course, the height of creativity. Advertising is a reflection of the fundamental changes sweeping our society – the transformative effect of digital, the changes in all forms of media, the importance of data and the rise of wireless. Amidst this rapid change, privacy is one of the most important issues in the advertising and media business, and one which demands our attention now, not tomorrow.
The Way I See It
- I see that digital technology and media has created an unprecedented “Holy Grail” opportunity for marketers to have conversations with consumers as individuals wherever they are on a broad array of devices. The question we must answer is, how do we manage the legitimate privacy concerns?
- I see the FTC’s role and influence in steering the privacy and data security debate and action rising in importance.
- I see global marketers and agencies working in good faith either alone or in groups to navigate safely through leading edge issues and the concerns of interested parties – the government, agencies, marketers, technology providers, media and consumers.
- I see “do not track” continue to be a central issue that focuses many of the important advertising industry and societal issues about both what can be and what should be.
- I see “privacy by design” being a simple concept, but a difficult concept to execute in real time.
The Way The Industry Sees It
Commissioner Julie Brill of the FTC shared some extremely valuable insights with me and the attendees of our Advertising Week session. I then asked Commissioner Brill some follow up questions that touched upon some of the conversation that we had in our Advertising Week session.
Can you highlight what you see as the role of the FTC in regards to its relationship with the advertising industry’s need to focus on consumer privacy and data security?
The Commission has developed a set of best practices, as outlined in the agency’s March 2012 final privacy framework, for companies that collect and use consumer data. (“Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers,” An FTC Report (Mar. 26, 2012) available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/03/120326privacyreport.pdf.) Because the advertising industry is among the heaviest users of such information, these best practices can be useful to the advertising industry –including ad networks, individual advertisers, and all other players in the advertising eco-system—as they develop and maintain processes and systems to operationalize privacy and data security practices within their businesses. In addition to our policymaking role, the Commission takes action against companies—including those in the advertising industry—that do not treat consumer data in accordance with the laws enforced by the agency. For example, we took action against several advertising networks that misrepresented their practices involving consumers’ ability to opt-out from online behavioral advertising. (See press releases, “FTC Puts an End to Tactics of Online Advertising Company That Deceived Consumers Who Wanted to “Opt Out” from Targeted Ads” (Mar. 14, 2011), available at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/03/chitika.shtm; “Online Advertiser Settles FTC Charges ScanScout Deceptively Used Flash Cookies to Track Consumers Online” (Nov. 8, 2011), available at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/11/scanscout.shtm).
In the fast paced world of marketers and agencies where they must implement “privacy by design”, what is the biggest issue confronting the industry?
Well, there are a lot of big issues. One of the biggest issues is the rapid pace of today’s technological advances. Companies are bringing products and services to market as quickly as they can—and the advertising and marketing have to keep up with that pace. As a result, companies may not be employing a methodical process to consider all the privacy and data security issues that could arise with the product or service, or with an advertising or marketing campaign. I think one of the most important elements of Privacy by Design is for companies to take the time to thoroughly examine the consumer information they are collecting, what is being done with that information, and how it is being safeguarded. In our privacy report, we stress the importance of operationalizing these processes, which will help companies conduct these analyses in an efficient and timely fashion.