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Chairman Rockefeller Remains Critical of Digital Advertising Alliance Self-Regulatory Efforts

On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the progress of industry self-regulation of online behavioral advertising (OBA). Witnesses appeared on behalf of Mozilla, the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. As in the past, Chairman Rockefeller remained highly critical of the self-regulatory efforts of the advertising community.

Chairman Rockefeller accused the ad industry of deliberately dragging its feet on implementing a Do Not Track system and said that the DAA’s program is not sufficient to fulfill the Do Not Track obligation laid out in his bill. He also accused the DAA of having an unenforceable standard for providing choice to consumers. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said that “companies know more about us than most of our friends” and suggested that legislation might be necessary due to the fact that stakeholders within the Internet community cannot come to a Do Not Track consensus. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Dean Heller (R-NV), and John Thune (R-SD), the Ranking Member of the Committee, all said that protecting consumer privacy was of utmost importance, but expressed the need to balance privacy concerns while not undermining the benefits of free ad-supported content on the Internet.

Harvey Anderson, the Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs at Mozilla, defended his company’s recent announcement that it will begin blocking third party cookies in Firefox and said the efficacy of the DAA program was questionable.

Lou Mastria, the Managing Director of the Digital Advertising Alliance, noted that DAA provides the greatest opportunity for consumers to exercise meaningful choice and described the strong enforcement mechanisms the program has in place. Mr. Mastria stated that the DAA will soon announce an expansion of its principles to the mobile environment. Additionally, Mastria pointed out the many beneficial uses of cookies beyond advertising, such as fraud prevention on the Internet, that could be undermined by Mozilla’s plan.

Clearly the debate over OBA and self-regulation will continue. Chairman Rockefeller, who will no longer have to worry about campaigning after announcing his retirement at the end of this Congress, may wish to remain particularly active on this issue in order to cement his legacy.

If you have questions about this matter, please contact Dan Jaffe (djaffe@ana.net) in ANA’s Washington office at 202-296-1883.

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