Ad Agencies: It’s Time to Help Resolve Our Privacy Issues

David Cohen, president, IAB
IAB president David Cohen

Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO David Cohen has drawn pushback from Capitol Hill and the advertising community for some tough talk about privacy at IAB’s annual leadership conference last week, with a couple of major ad association’s taking part of the blame for the current problems and suggesting it was time for the industry to clean up its own messes and do better going forward.

Cohen told Next TV that his goal was to unite, not divide.

According to one attendee, talk on stage at the conference included: “I’m not going to talk about privacy. Because privacy is boring, it makes our eyes glaze over.”

IAB says that, if so, Cohen did not say it. But his speech was filled with red meat on the issue, according to a copy.

"Extremists are winning the battle for hearts and minds in Washington D.C. and beyond. We cannot let that happen," he said. "These extremists are political opportunists who’ve made it their mission to cripple the advertising industry and eliminate it from the American economy and culture."

And he named some Capitol Hill names. "Washington D.C. leaders including [Sen.] Amy Klobuchar  [D-Minn.]and [Sen.] Ted Cruz [R-Tex.] will throw our industry under their campaign buses, if we let them," he said.

Cohen also took aim at one of the biggest tech platform players. "We must all be in this together. If we can’t fix the rotting at our core, we won’t survive. While there are no shortage of extremists attacking our industry from the outside, there are some attacking it from the inside out. Most notably, Apple exemplifies the cynicism and hypocrisy that underpins the prevailing extremist view."

Online privacy is a big issue in D.C. and elsewhere. The Federal Trade Commission is looking to crack down on “surveillance advertising,“ while there are several efforts in Congress to pass legislation cracking down on data collection and targeted marketing — all efforts that IAB, representing Big Tech's biggest online platforms, has strongly opposed. Cohen doubled down on that opposition in his conference keynote by calling those behind the privacy efforts, which include some powerful legislators, radicals and extremists, according to Politico Pro.

Also: Bill Allows For ‘Turning Off’ Targeted Marketing

On Tuesday (January 31), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4A’s) and the Association of National Advertisers tried to distance themselves from Cohen’s remarks.

“The 4A’s and ANA reject the acerbic tone, texture and prescriptions offered by the IAB at their recent ALM conference,” the statement read. “Our industry was built on a foundation of responsible marketing. While we, as an industry, may not always get it right, we do know when we must lead to restore balance — especially when we have created the conditions for our industry to be ‘out of balance.’ ”

ANA and the 4A’s, neither of which is a big fan of government regulation of the advertising marketplace, called Cohen’s speech a “tirade against the forces that disagree with our industry” and put some of the blame for the current ad issues on their own industry.

Also: IAB Calls Privacy Legislation Biggest Threat to Addressability

“Many of the problems that the IAB cited were because of an imbalanced industry that we all created and supported with our advertising investments,” the statement said. “Did we ever utter the issues of ‘brand safety’ or ‘digital ad fraud’ 10 years ago? Of course not. But it is time for our industry to clean up its messes and present a far more responsible approach to address the issues that are prevalent in our industry.”

IAB has said it supports national privacy legislation, just not the brand currently being pushed or what it labels “ill-considered regulatory regimes.” 

Cohen said in an emailed statement addressing the pushback that he was not out to put anyone down for working towards the shared goal of privacy protection.

“Rather than be divisive, the goal of my opening keynote was to rally the industry and instill a sense of urgency so that we can work together to build a healthy and sustainable ad-supported digital industry," he said. "It was also to accurately reflect the interests of our members which now include all sides of the digital ecosystem.

"We have deep respect for Congress and appreciate all the work going towards national privacy reform,“ he said. ”However, we need to recognize that there is a perception issue that we need to overcome. The negativity around the technology sector fueled by select viewpoints has the potential to adversely impact us all. The industry must all work collaboratively to ensure we get a rational and sound national policy on data use. We look forward to working with legislators and regulators as well as the ANA, 4A’s and others over the coming months to develop solutions that work for all constituents: consumers, regulators, and industry.” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.