Regulatory Rumblings

Senate Finance Committee Requesting Comments on Tax Reform

Posted: Mar 12, 2015 11:00am ET

The Senate Finance Committee is requesting ideas on how to fix the nation’s broken tax code to make it simpler, fairer, and more efficient. In a statement released Wednesday, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “By opening up our bipartisan working groups to public input, we hope to gain a greater understanding of how tax policy affects individuals, businesses, and civic groups across our nation. In doing so, we will also equip our working groups with valuable input, and we hope these suggestions will help guide the groups through the arduous task of putting forth substantive ideas to reform the tax code in each of their areas.”

The Finance Committee’s goal is to obtain additional input, data, and information for the bipartisan tax working groups, which are currently analyzing existing tax law and examining policy trade-offs and available reform options within each group’s designated area. The five working groups include: Individual Income Tax, Business Income Tax, Savings & Investment, International Tax, and Community Development & Infrastructure. Interested parties can email suggestions to each group at the email addresses provided on the Committee website. Submissions will be accepted through April 15, 2015, and made public at a later date.

ANA will be sending comments to the Business Income Tax working group to highlight the importance of protecting the full tax deductibility of advertising in the tax reform process. Proposals have been put forward to dramatically change the present ad deduction approach, which allows advertisers to write off 100% of their ad expenditures in the year in which they are made. In its place, these proposals would require that 50% of advertising expenditures be written off over either 5 or 10 years, potentially costing the ad community at least $169 billion in additional taxes over a 10 year period. Amortizing advertising unfortunately would only serve to hurt businesses trying to stimulate the economy and provide jobs for hardworking Americans. We look forward to working with the Senate Finance Committee and Congress as a whole to find a tax reform solution that works for everyone and continues to spur economic investment by businesses in our country.

Business Community Wins Important Supreme Court Victory on State Tax Challenges

Posted: Mar 3, 2015 1:00pm ET

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision today which protects the ability of business groups to challenge state tax laws. Last fall, ANA joined with several other industry groups to file an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the Court.

The case, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, (U.S. Supreme Court Docket No. 13-1032) involves a challenge to a Colorado law that requires out-of-state merchants to disclose confidential information about their Colorado customers to the state’s revenue department.

DMA filed a lawsuit challenging the Colorado law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the federal courts had no jurisdiction over the case because of the federal Tax Injunction Act (TIA). That act generally prohibits federal courts from blocking state tax collections. DMA argued that the Tenth Circuit’s interpretation of the TIA creates a serious restriction on the access of businesses to federal courts to challenge the constitutionality of state laws. ANA fully agreed with this position.

We are very pleased that the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Tenth Circuit, allowing the challenge to the Colorado law to proceed. We think this is an important victory for the ad community.   

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is Wrong

Posted: Mar 2, 2015 12:00am ET

President Obama’s recent announcement of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights unfortunately is a major step in the wrong direction. It will divert attention and energy from critical data security legislation and will not materially aid the privacy debate.

The Obama Administration appears, either consciously or unconsciously, to have realized this fact as the release of the draft was carried out in a manner almost certain to bury the proposal. The Administration released the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights on a late Friday afternoon in the middle of an extremely busy news cycle focusing on the FCC’s recent net neutrality vote and a Department of Homeland Security funding crisis in Congress. If the Administration truly was trying to publicize an effort in which they had confidence, they certainly would have waited until this week to do so.

Nevertheless, opposition to the proposal came swiftly from all directions, including business, consumer groups, and both sides of the aisle in the Congress. Even the FTC, who would have taken the lead under this draft proposal, raised serious questions about it. The FTC stated, “We have concerns that the draft bill does not provide consumers with the strong and enforceable protections needed to safeguard their privacy.”

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) chimed in emphasizing that the draft “falls far short of what is needed to ensure consumers and families are squarely in control of their personal data.” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chair Michael Burgess (R-TX) also issued a statement, emphasizing that the comprehensive draft bill went too far and that it should be more narrowly focused on data breach legislation. “Data breaches threaten consumers’ credit and pocketbooks and they are an annual drag on our economy of tens of billions of dollars. We hope that Congress and the administration can finally work together to address this growing problem before another decade of data breaches passes by.”

ANA encourages the Obama Administration rather than to attempt to develop a whole new sweeping privacy regime to recognize the broad number of existing federal privacy laws including Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, among many others, that already provide broad protection to consumers. These privacy laws are substantially supplemented by self-regulatory efforts carried out by the Digital Advertising Alliance to protect consumer online privacy. Just this last week, the DAA program was substantially expanded to cover mobile and mobile apps.  

Instead, lawmakers should focus for now on one area where there is growing consensus that something must be done quickly and effectively, and that is the creation of a national data breach notice and data security regime. ANA strongly believes that it is long past time to end a situation where there are more than 47 inconsistent and conflicting state data breach and data security laws. We must have one strong law for the country as a whole to protect consumers, businesses, and interstate commerce.

New Internet Regulation Rules Hold Great Significance for Advertisers

Posted: Feb 27, 2015 12:00am ET

Yesterday’s approval by the Federal Communications Commission of new Internet rules is a landmark change in the Internet regulatory landscape. It is almost certain to turn out to hold great significance for ANA’s members. The “devil still is in the details” of the 300-plus page document just approved. Although it’s not yet been posted by the FCC for public review, a few observations are already possible. In short, the FCC has now classified broadband services under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which means that high-speed services – previously largely unregulated -- will now be regulated in a similar manner to telephone companies (e.g., they must charge “just and reasonable” rates, they can’t unreasonably discriminate in charges or services, etc.). The FCC also relied on section 706 of the 1934 Communications Act (which permits the FCC to accelerate broadband deployment) and on certain other legal provisions that apply to mobile services, as the rules apply to wireless carriers as well. This is the FCC’s third attempt to adopt Internet regulations, since the two previous efforts were overturned by the courts.

Under the new rules, companies will be prevented from blocking access to content and services; they can’t impair or degrade traffic based on content/service; and they can’t give priority to particular traffic or content over others in return for payment. The FCC also will now be enforcing privacy policies, enabling the construction of new broadband pipes, and protecting those with disabilities. The FCC decided today to forbear for now (though not relinquish authority, so future changes could occur) from applying rate regulation, requiring automatic contributions to the Fund that ensures universal service for consumers, and applying Internet taxation.

Several new legal standards appear to be included in the new regulations, including an Open Internet conduct standard that precludes carriers from harming consumers, as well as a prohibition on unreasonable interference with Internet use. Both of these new standards will require additional interpretation and application in particular cases, so it’s unclear just now precisely what they mean and how far they will go. Also, until we see the actual language of the new rules, it’s not clear what will be the relationship between the FCC’s regulation and that carried out by the Federal Trade Commission. Under the FTC Act, the FTC cannot regulate an entity that is otherwise regulated as a common carrier by the FCC. The FCC’s action today seems to be partial common carrier application, so it’s quite possible that the FCC and FTC will now share some jurisdiction, with two potential “cops on the beat” for broadband. That could very well make it more difficult to ascertain where regulation by one agency starts and the other ends, as well as create potential compliance conflicts when and if the agencies impose differing requirements. So, we could have two privacy regulators, two entities determining what is unfair or unreasonable, and the like.  

Supporters claim the regulation is necessary to ensure against a world of Internet “haves” and “have-nots,” and point to the fact that some entities have been operating under Title II, continuing to invest in their infrastructure, and doing just fine. Critics complain that the Internet doesn’t need heavy-handed regulation, that this action will stifle innovation in products and services, and that this is just the beginning of ever-increasing regulation of the Internet. What seems certain is that the new rules will face substantial challenges in court. Furthermore, as was stated in a Washington Post article, “Other groups and companies are contemplating whether to ask for a stay of the rules — a legal order that would temporarily prevent the FCC’s regulation from taking effect.” Clearly, it is likely there will be several years of litigation yet to come. This time period would allow Congress ample time, if it so chose, to craft a proposal to supersede the FCC’s regulation. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have already signaled that they plan to work on an alternative approach to net neutrality that doesn’t allow for broadband to be classified as a utility service.

Stay tuned; we’ll be reviewing the details of the new rules and closely consulting with our members as the issues raised by this new major initiative begin to become clearer.

Digital Advertising Alliance Launches Valuable Tools to Protect Consumers’ Privacy

Posted: Feb 25, 2015 12:00am ET

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) today launched two new mobile tools for consumers – "AppChoices" and the "DAA Consumer Choice Page for Mobile Web." These innovations mirror the programs currently available on desktop browsers, which provide mechanisms for consumer choice and enhanced privacy controls. This evolution in the DAA's choice platforms adapts consumer-friendly, independently enforceable privacy controls to the fast-growing mobile medium, and is a large step in the right direction – towards tailored marketing and privacy protections.

The ANA supports these simplified means to control data collection and use across websites and mobile apps. As a member of the DAA Self-Regulatory Program, the ANA is committed to developing effective self-regulatory solutions for online data alongside its industry partners.  These tools are a representation of that mission, and were developed to provide a consistent user experience across these channels, the DAA reports. The two new mobile enhancements will help ensure that users have access to simple control mechanisms for mobile browsers and in-mobile applications. Starting today, AppChoices is available as a free download from major online mobile app storefronts, Google PlayTM, Apple App StoreSM, and Amazon Store.

Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the ANA, noted that “Mobile media has become foundational to the growth and effectiveness of consumer marketing. By launching a suite of new mobile privacy tools, DAA gives consumers comprehensive control over the interest-based advertising that they experience across the Internet. Marketers know consumers have become increasingly mobile. DAA’s important innovations ensure that consumers can confidently manage how they receive interest-based ads across all desktop and mobile media. We are very proud of this major step forward – a step that improves the quality and trustworthiness of our self-regulatory system."

The DAA also announced that it expects its independent accountability programs – the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) – to commence enforcement under the Mobile Guidance by late summer.

Based on the same self-regulatory principles underlying the DAA’s existing Consumer Choice Page for desktop Web browsers, AppChoices provides an easy-to-use interface to allow users to set their preferences for data collection and use across apps for interest-based advertising and other applicable uses. The DAA Consumer Choice Page for Mobile Web is an updated, mobile-optimized version of the desktop Consumer Choice Page already used by millions of consumers; and which will allow consumers to set their own preferences for data collection and use easily across the mobile sites they visit. The ANA will continue to support the innovative developments of the DAA, and the overarching goal to protect the privacy of consumers everywhere.

Narrow Window for Tax Reform is Cause for Urgency

Posted: Feb 19, 2015 12:00am ET

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI-1) has set an ultimatum for tax reform in 2015 – either a tax rewrite is done by this summer or not at all. As was stated in a recent PoliticoPro article, “That tight seven-month time frame is aggressive and specific, two attributes not typically associated with recent talk of tax reform.” Ryan has chosen to dedicate much of his time and effort as Ways & Means Chair to the tax reform cause, stating that this is a large reason why he is not running for President in 2016. He has also shown a willingness to work with the Obama Administration to get something passed, even if it is not a comprehensive package. Ryan said, “If we can do tax reform in phases and those phases work, well, then I’m open to doing that.”

Clearly, if Chairman Ryan has a sense of urgency on passing tax reform, then those who want to be treated fairly as this legislation is crafted must also ramp up efforts. We must actively work to ensure that advertising in particular is protected as an ordinary and necessary business expense, since it has already been targeted in recent tax reform proposals as a source of new revenue. The proposals to increase the tax burden on the effort to sell by imposing a requirement that 50% of advertising be amortized over 5 or 10 years would substantially hurt job creation and economic activity in the U.S. Studies by IHS Global Insight have demonstrated that advertising generates as many as 21.1 million jobs in the U.S. annually. Advertisers cannot simply wait until a new tax bill is out. We must mobilize now and set a summer deadline for ourselves as well in order to show all members of Congress the undeniable benefits advertising delivers to the economy and to our tax system.

Big Data, Differential Pricing, and Advertising

Posted: Feb 18, 2015 12:00am ET

On February 6th, the White House Council of Economic Advisors released an important report entitled “Big Data and Differential Pricing.”

Differential pricing is the practice of charging customers different prices for the same product, such as senior discounts for movie tickets or tiered pricing for air travel. One of the concerns expressed in the major White House Big Data report that was released last May (“Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values,” http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/technology/big-data-review) was that big data analytics could lead to disparate inequitable treatment, particularly of historically disadvantaged groups.

The Council’s report is a thoughtful, balanced document which describes the evolving technologies and business practices for big data as well as the benefits that differential pricing can provide to both marketers and consumers. There were three important findings worth noting: (1) many companies use big data for targeted marketing, although only a fairly limited number are experimenting with personalized pricing; (2) while concerns about differential pricing in the age of big data remain, many of them can be addressed by enforcing existing anti-discrimination, privacy and consumer protection laws; and (3) providing consumers with increased transparency about how companies use their data would promote more competition and better informed consumer choice.

That’s where the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) self-regulatory efforts come in. To address the privacy concerns about interest-based advertising, the marketing community has built one of the most rapidly-growing and successful self-regulatory programs in history. ANA and four other industry groups were founding members of the DAA, which features an icon alerting consumers to the fact that they have been served an ad based on browsing history. When a consumer clicks on this icon, they can access detailed information about interest-based ads and learn how to exercise choice about how to opt-out of targeted ads if they wish to do so.

Since its launch in 2010, the DAA has rapidly brought enhanced notice and choice to consumers:

We have encouraged all of our members to join the DAA program.

The Council’s report suggests that “policies to prevent inequitable application of big data should focus on risk-based pricing in high-stakes markets such as employment, insurance or credit provision.” That is consistent with the DAA program, which explicitly forbids data collected for OBA purposes to be used for job, insurance, mortgages and other similar sensitive purposes.  
The report was an encouraging and positive first look at complex issues including the positive aspects of differential pricing and some reasonable approaches to mitigate these risks. These issues are sufficiently important that they are sure to continue to receive the careful consideration of policymakers and the ad community for the foreseeable future.  

Online Piracy – The Advertising Industry Fights to Protect Consumers

Posted: Feb 10, 2015 10:00am ET

With the strong support of the Association of National Advertisers, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) announced this morning the advertising industry’s newest campaign initiative, the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy.  With a focus on protecting consumers and advertisers alike from “dangerous deficiencies in the digital communications supply chain,” TAG is a collaboration between the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).  

The Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy relays the immense importance to the advertising industry of protecting both advertisers and consumers from pirates and others who are seeking to take advantage of the growth of the internet.  The new program against piracy, and the initiatives advanced by TAG in general, show that advertisers are fighting back against critical concerns like ad-supported piracy, digital advertising fraud and malware.

Through the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, TAG has worked with other marketing and advertising trade associations, advertising technology trades, representatives from the recording and media industries, and a consumer protection coalition, to establish a strong network of advocates for the protection of consumers and advertisers alike.  Within the first phase of this initiative, TAG will work with independent third-party validators, including Ernst & Young and Stroz Friedberg, to certify advertising technology companies as DAAPs – Digital Advertising Assurance Providers.  This will help to enforce standards and provide tools that can limit a company’s exposure to undesirable websites.

This program is just one example of the ways in which the ANA and others in the ad community are working to ensure the safety of consumers and advertisers.  We strongly believe that U.S. advertisers should be confident that their ads are not unintentionally providing financial support to, or otherwise legitimizing, "rogue" Internet sites whose primary and apparent purpose is to steal or facilitate theft of the intellectual property of America’s innovators and creators. U.S. advertisers must also have confidence that their corporate brands and images are not being harmed by association with such unlawful activity. We will continue to work hard to protect such a valuable Internet environment, and the safe access of information by consumers nationwide.

ANA has been working on this issue for several years. In 2012, ANA issued a best practices white paper along with the 4A’s.

To learn more about TAG and this initiative, click here.   

How Will New Net Neutrality Rules Impact Advertisers?

Posted: Feb 6, 2015 12:00am ET

The media is riveted on the news that, for the third time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to adopt net neutrality rules (its two previous efforts were overturned by the courts). The exact details of this latest effort are not yet available, but the information trickling out already raises red flags and issues of great interest to advertisers.

Apparently, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler contemplates -- for the first time -- applying, to some still not fully defined extent, traditional Title II (i.e., “common carrier”) regulation to Internet providers. Title II of the 1934 Communications Act has been applied over the years to telephone providers, and involves such issues as tariff filings, rate regulation, service requirements and the like. Wheeler is asking his fellow commissioners to apply certain parts of Title II that, e.g., retain the FCC’s ability to take action in the privacy area, ensure build-out opportunities, oversee the Internet backbone, and prevent paid prioritization (i.e., “fast lanes”). Any obligations that are applied could then, of course, be enforced against violators. As of now, it doesn’t seem that the proposal will apply to price regulation, require that tariffs be filed, or demand contributions to the fund that provides universal communications availability. But without doubt, many telecommunications companies are already signaling that they are adamantly opposed to this far-reaching regulatory expansion.

Among the potential issues raised by the proposed rules is the critical questions of whether they will preempt the authority of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to oversee broadband provider activities. In order to avoid duplicative regulation, the FTC Act precludes the agency from exercising jurisdiction over those regulated as “common carriers” by the FCC. If the FCC “cherry-picks” and imposes some common carrier regulations, the FTC’s authority will be thrown into doubt, as it will be unclear whether – and to what extent – the FTC would still have authority over Internet providers. This will create great uncertainty and could result in inconsistent or duplicative regulation. States that enforce “mini-FTC Acts” based on FTC’s jurisdiction could have their authority called into question, further muddying the waters for advertisers and their customers about state requirements. Local jurisdictions also might not have authority to continue some of their efforts. Advertisers and their customers could be left guessing as to what is required of them, or risk enforcement for undertaking activities that are required or permitted by one federal agency but not another. In short, if these proposed changes are not carried out extremely judiciously and carefully, they could create a regulatory mess.  

Among the many issues ANA will be watching as the net neutrality rules are spelled out are:

Stay tuned; this is potentially one of the bigger issues to confront the Internet since its inception, and is sure to generate responsive legislation, litigation and tremendous controversy. We’ll be in touch as the details emerge, and ANA members should be vigilant as well. ANA also will be covering these net neutrality and other FCC communications issues at our 2015 Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference.

Forget Football: Everyone is Talking about Their Favorite Super Bowl Ads

Posted: Feb 3, 2015 12:00am ET

Good, bad or sad – this year’s slate of Super Bowl ads definitely got the attention of consumers and viewers nationwide. Links to watch the game online included separate (and heavily viewed) pages just to watch the ads as they aired, and Forbes stated that “several studies have proven that 50% of the Super Bowl audience tunes in just to watch the ads.” According to a recently conducted poll by Crowdtap, a people-powered marketing platform, and shared by Word of Mouth Marketing Association, 85% of people said that they “prefer the Super Bowl as it is now, ads and all, to a Super Bowl with no ads.”

As commercials aired, people quickly picked their favorites and tweeted and posted about which were the funniest, the saddest and overall the most compelling 30-second slots. Ranking ads even had its own twitter hashtag again this year - #Brandbowl – with some users stating that “the game was great, but I was really watching for the ads.”

With this increasing interest in advertising, there is also a renewed awareness of how innately valuable marketing and creative engagement with consumers can be. The 2015 Super Bowl drew a record 114.4 million viewers, meaning that those ads have an incredible impact. Translating those numbers into economic impact is easy – according to a recent study by IHS Global Insight, Inc., by 2017, advertising will directly and indirectly foster $6.5 trillion in U.S. economic activity on an annual basis and help support 22.1 million U.S. jobs. Looking at the issue another way, for every dollar spent on advertising; nearly $22 would be generated in the economy.

These facts make the issue of an ad tax, such as those periodically proposed by Congress, all the more problematic. Right now, advertising, like all ordinary and necessary business expenses, can be deducted immediately. Proposals, however, have been put forward to require that 50% of advertising expenses would have to be written off over 10 years. This onerous tax has the capability to cost the industry an additional $169 billion over that time period, a staggering sum that would place a heavy burden and brake on the selling process. This tax clearly would undermine the positive impact the advertising industry has on our nation’s economy, at a time when policymakers are focusing on economic and job growth.  

The proposed ad tax would have painful impacts on the companies that advertise, and those impacts last long beyond the short time frame in which ads like those on during the Super Bowl air. For companies advertising a product that is only newsworthy in the near-term, they could face paying taxes over 10 years for a product that might lack relevance in 10 months.

Advertising has long been treated as a necessary cost of doing business, and for good reason. Without advertising built in as an essential ordinary and necessary business expense, most businesses would be severely burdened by these new costs. An ad tax would restrict job growth and would harm our nation’s economy, making the impact on our nation stretch far beyond football. To protect such a productive industry, we continue to encourage policymakers to support the existing tax deduction for advertising, and to commit to continuing to generate millions of jobs across the country annually.

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About This Blog

Penned by Dan Jaffe, the ANA's group executive vice president of government relations, this blog focuses on advocacy initiatives and key legal/regulatory issues that threaten national advertisers' freedom of commercial speech.