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The IAB Believes…in online privacy

Statement from IAB UK .. As the internet continues to become more entrenched in our everyday lives so the notion of privacy becomes all the more important.

User privacy is a challenge that all organisations – big or small – operating in a digital world need to address, not least as this world is about to get a whole lot more complicated with the advent of the so-called ‘Internet of Things’.

The IAB believes in privacy. For many years now, advertising has been at the forefront of the digital privacy debate and the IAB has been working with its industry partners across Europe and beyond to provide ways for people to safeguard it.
As with non-publicly funded broadcast TV and radio, internet advertising helps to pay for content, services and applications making them widely available to people at little or no cost. The use of people’s information – the searches we make or sites we visit – helps to make the advertising more relevant to their interests and preferences, and more valuable to publishers who invest in the quality content and services that we enjoy. In other words, given the economic need for advertising it is better that it is relevant, helpful and interesting.

But people need to be empowered to decide how to safeguard their privacy: it is not a one-way street. We all require meaningful transparency about what information is collected and easy-to-use controls on how it can be managed.

As the debate intensifies, here are four ways to move towards this goal:

  1. How advertising works and what it helps pay for.. First and foremost, we need to raise the level of awareness and understanding on the data that is collected and used. The average person on the street needs more information on how the internet and digital business models work. For example, how advertising works and what it helps pay for. We need to remind users about this fair data exchange and what they get in return. Lawmakers are busy people but they should be included in this campaign. Without a coordinated approach we cannot expect them to understand the aforementioned ‘value exchange’ balance and therefore get the rules and regulations that govern our sector right.
  2. A real opportunity to create incentives … We need a pragmatic and streamlined framework for data protection in Europe. The discussions in Brussels will reach their conclusion towards the end of this year. Here is a real opportunity to create incentives for organisations to build privacy-enhancing measures and embrace a truly ‘privacy by design’ approach. The latest commentary suggests the reforms will actually do the opposite: create an unrealistic consent standard thereby failing to adequately protect people’s privacy whilst making some business models – including in digital advertising – unworkable.
  3. How information is used for commercial purposes .. The public debate has been overshadowed by the state surveillance issues surfaced by Edward Snowden. These are critical government issues but they should not be conflated or confused with how information is used for commercial purposes. The data protection discussions in Brussels have been guilty of this and this has made informed debate on many other important issues in framing new legislation – helping to provide legal and commercial certainty for businesses – near on impossible.
  4. People can click on the ‘AdChoices’ icon in ads .. Industry needs to step up its game on privacy. Global tech players – those often in the privacy firing line – can take the lead. In the digital advertising sector, we’ve made a good start. Across Europe and beyond, people can click on the ‘AdChoices’ icon in ads and on sites to see what information is collected as well as how advertising preferences can be managed. There’s a way to go but the signs are encouraging: in 2014 over 160bn icons were delivered across Europe and there were nearly two million unique visitors to every month. Down the line approaches such as the use of an icon to present information to people in a contextual way will have to evolve for a world of smartphones and for devices with no user interface at all.

In conclusion, a new approach is needed if we want to realise the benefits of the shiny digital world and safeguard privacy. The two are not mutually exclusive as some might think and the nature of the debate has become too polarised.

The elephant in the room is the looming European data protection reform: we may have to go backwards before we can move forward.