Overheard at IAB’s ALM: ‘Big Tech is now the de facto global regulator’

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The IAB’s ALM took place this week where industry leaders debated grappling with enhanced privacy requirements in the day-to-day runnings of their ad operations with the agenda of the week’s proceedings underpinned by the quest for “privacy-enhancing technologies.”

Against the backdrop of regulators taking pot-shots at industry attempts to explain the inner workings of ad tech to the public under GDPR requirements, the debate turned to how not to fall afoul of fragmented privacy regulations.

Below is a round-up of some of the key talking points discussed as part of the agenda that saw policy experts, elected representatives and industry luminaries dispense advice from the (virtual) IAB conference stage.

Big Tech is the default global regulator of data usage

In conversation with IAB Tech Lab CEO Anthony Katsur, ViacomCBS’s vp of privacy Brandon Seltenrich and Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer at Cafe Media debated navigating the industry’s fragmented privacy landscape.

I think there’s already agreement that we need to have some federal standards that apply to internet policy
Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (Dem-De.)

Scaled media and advertising businesses now have to deal with an increasingly fragmented landscape when it comes to diverse privacy regulations — everything from GDPR to CCPA, etc. in the U.S. — all while attempting to achieve some kind of operational consistency across the globe.

Each of the participants noted that while the regulatory landscape is an ever-evolving, and confusing one, it’s best to use the (subsequent) privacy requirements of platform providers such as Apple and Google as a proxy.

“I think Big Tech has, in some ways, have become the de facto regulator in a lot of ways,” said Bannister, adding that their policy changes have a more wide-ranging impact than lawmakers whose across the U.S. and EU. This is because laws such as GDPR are restricted to the European economic area, etc., while the application of policies like Apple’s privacy safeguards has had a global reach.

Meanwhile, Seltenrich explained how his team adopts a pragmatic approach to balancing privacy necessities with commercial demands from other departments in ViacomCBS’ operations.

“For us, it’s about trying to create playbooks, we’re a small team and can’t be in all the sales calls,” he said. “We create a common playbook … that [sales] teams can rely upon and then bring us in for additional questions, escalation, education.”

Google: ‘Don’t worry … it gets better third time around’

Separately, David Temkin, director, product management, ads privacy and user trust at Google, attempted to reassure conference attendees that the online advertising giant’s Privacy Sandbox rollout will be a magnanimous one — a notion that is not universally held throughout the rest of the industry.

Addressing concerns over the pending rollout of Google Topics — the privacy-enhancing ad targeting alternative to replace the now-defunct FLoCs proposals — Temkin said that such fears will be allayed when trial participants see the results roll in.

“I think we’re fairly confident that as people see real-world results the anxiety will diminish,” he said. “This is a journey, of course, it’s not going to be perfect, right? Stuff like this [software proposals] gets to be good around [version] 3.0.”

‘U.S. Federal privacy laws are inevitable, right after …’

Top of the speaking agenda was a Q&A with Congresswoman, Lisa Blunt Rochester (Dem-De.), one of the sponsors of a 2020 Bill introduced to the House that has become known as the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction Act, or DETOUR, Act.

Detour aims to curtail ‘surveillance advertising’ – a.k.a highly addressable, effective and measurable ad campaigns among media professionals — by prohibiting large online operators from misleading consumers into providing personal information or giving consent.

In conversation with IAB’s public policy chief Lartease Tiffith, Blunt Rochester said sponsors of the Bill have made progress when it comes to achieving bipartisan support. “We’ve made some really good progress this Congress on the Detour act, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so optimistic about us getting this across the finish line this year.”

Tiffith then went on to ask if similar progress could be expected when it comes to the potential for a “pre-emptive federal data privacy law” that could prevent the scenario of a patchwork of different privacy requirements across the 50 U.S. states.

“You know, the bottom line is there has to be a path forward. We don’t have a choice. This is something that we have to do,” she said, “I think there’s already agreement that we need to have some federal standards that apply to internet policy.”

Congresswoman Blunt Rochester said comprehensive federal privacy standards would likewise protect consumers and give certainty to the businesses — a real “win-win” scenario — but, she added, “the devil’s in the detail.”

Simply put, despite the industry’s lobbying efforts in the guise of Privacy for America, a federal data privacy standard is just not up there when considering priorities such as flagship policy programs like Build Back Better, the America Competes Act, or fundamental political issues such as voting rights or budget appropriations. The online advertising industry’s wait for a U.S. federal U.S. will have to continue.


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