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Advertisers’ Role in Protecting Location Data Privacy

June 5, 2014

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law held a hearing on location data privacy. The hearing focused on a bill sponsored by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) called the “Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014.”  This bill addresses voluntary location tracking of electronic communications devices, especially “stalking apps” on cellphones.  Senator Franken’s goal is to help victims of stalking and domestic abuse and to give consumers control over their sensitive information.

While the hearing mainly focused on these so-called “stalking apps,” Lou Mastria, Executive Director of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), was given the opportunity to testify on behalf of advertisers and the DAA.  While online advertisers do collect data from individuals for interest-based advertising, which allows ads to be targeted to specific interests, Mr. Mastria made the distinction that this data is far different from data collected by “stalking apps” and should be carefully and completely differentiated from it.  In regard to location data for commercial purposes, Mr. Mastria stated, “For the collection of precise location data, the DAA program requires consent prior to collection and the provision of an easy to use tool to withdraw such consent.”  

The centerpiece of Mr. Mastria’s testimony was the self-regulatory efforts of the DAA.  The DAA was founded by the ANA and a number of other major industry associations to administer and promote self-regulatory principles for online data collection and use.  The DAA’s principles have already been adopted by a large number of advertisers and others in the ad community for the desktop arena, and the Mobile Guidance program for addressing data practices on mobile or other devices is currently in the roll out process.  

There is proof the DAA’s efforts are working.  The DAA icon is served more than a trillion times a month to alert consumers to the use of interest-based ads.  Over 30 million unique Internet users have gone to the DAA website to learn about the program and to have the opportunity to opt-out of having interest-based ads served to them if they don’t desire to receive this information.  After examining these options, only 3 million people have opted out of the program.

There is a strict enforcement arm to the program as well.  To date, the DAA has pursued over 30 investigations against entities engaging in practices that do not adhere to the self-regulatory principles; in the one instance where there was not voluntary compliance, this information was forwarded on to federal regulators for further action.

For our information-driven economy to survive, self-regulation led by industry codes of conduct is the ideal way to balance privacy and innovation.  Accountability and enforcement, both key tenets of the DAA program, are best handled through industry self-regulation.  Federal legislators must be careful not to stifle the success and growth of online advertising in the push for greater safeguards against unrelated illegal activities.  

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