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Advertisers to White House: Stick To Self-Regulation

Ad agencies have at least one bone to pick with the White House over the Administration's Big Data report, released Thursday. The report proposed, among other things, promoted legislation that would enhance communications privacy laws and put legislative muscle behind the voluntary agreements the Administration is pushing for as part of its privacy bill of rights.

The Association of National Advertisers praised the "thoughtful, balanced review" and the report's acknowledgement that "online advertising has been a vital driver of the growth of the Internet." It also said it supported national data breach legislation.

But it was not so happy with suggestions for legislating privacy protections. "[W]e do not believe there is a present need for broad new privacy legislation," ANA said. "Rather, consumers can be best protected through a combination of existing privacy laws and regulations, privacy enhancing technologies, effective self-regulation and the ultimate backstop of the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to stop false, deceptive or unfair acts or practices."

The Administration has long argued for a legislative backstop, particularly since the FTC is limited principally to punishing folks who renege on pledges of privacy, not ones who don't sign on to voluntary codes in the first place.

But the ad industry for just as long has been arguing that regulation can't keep up with technology, a point ANA echoed. "The digital marketplace is developing so quickly that sweeping privacy legislation will fail to keep pace with technological developments. Only self-regulatory efforts combined with the existing regulatory framework will be nimble and flexible enough to keep up with explosive media and technological changes."

The Direct Marketing Association agrees. "DMA continues to believe that self-regulation is the appropriate approach to address complex, dynamic data policy issues,” the group said Thursday in response to the report. "DMA encourages the Administration to focus future policy discussions about commercial data practices on combatting discernible, concrete harms – not restricting the responsible use of data that fuels our economy and our data-driven way of life."

Those marketers have an ally in Congress, which has so far been unable to move various privacy bills, including a narrower kids do-not-track bill backed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), much less comprehensive privacy legislation.