IAB warns retailers on data privacy

The IAB has called for consumers to be better informed and more in control of how their personal data is used as the world becomes ever more closely connected to the internet.

The intervention comes at a time when retailers, brands and others are moving towards collecting ever-more personal data in order to deliver more personalised, relevant services both on their own websites and through advertising on third-party sites. Now, says the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the internet is set to become even more entrenched in our lives through the Internet of Things.

“The IAB believes in privacy,” it said in a blog. “For many years now, advertising has been at the forefront of the digital privacy debate and the IAB has been working with its industry partners across Europe and beyond to provide ways for people to safeguard it. As with non-publicly funded broadcast TV and radio, internet advertising helps to pay for content, services and applications making them widely available to people at little or no cost.

“The use of people’s information – the searches we make or sites we visit – helps to make the advertising more relevant to their interests and preferences, and more valuable to publishers who invest in the quality content and services that we enjoy. In other words, given the economic need for advertising it is better that it is relevant, helpful and interesting.”

But, it said, it’s important that people are empowered to safeguard their privacy, with controls in place to enable them to manage it.

It makes four suggestions for strategic priorities:

  • raising public awareness of what data is collected and used;
  • setting a “pragmatic and streamlined” framework for data protection in Europe;
  • moving the debate on from the issues of state surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden;
  • and says global tech players should take the lead in stepping up industry’s game on privacy.

“In the digital advertising sector, we’ve made a good start,” said the IAB. “Across Europe and beyond, people can click on the ‘AdChoices’ icon in ads and on sites to see what information is collected as well as how advertising preferences can be managed.

“There’s a way to go but the signs are encouraging: in 2014 over 160 billion icons were delivered across Europe and there were nearly 2 million unique visitors to www.youronlinechoices.eu every month. Down the line approaches such as the use of an icon to present information to people in a contextual way will have to evolve for a world of smartphones and for devices with no user interface at all.

“In conclusion, a new approach is needed if we want to realise the benefits of the shiny digital world and safeguard privacy. The two are not mutually exclusive as some might think and the nature of the debate has become too polarised. The elephant in the room is the looming European data protection reform: we may have to go backwards before we can move forward.”