AAF Government Report

April 14, 2011


Clark Rector Jr., Executive Vice President – Government Affairs



Privacy Bills Introduced

Two significant pieces of privacy legislation have recently been introduced in Congress. Senators John Kerry, D-Mass. and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced S. 799, “The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2001.” On the House side, Representatives Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. and Jim Matheson, D-Utah introduced H.R. 1528, “The Consumer Privacy Protection Act.”

The American Advertising Federation remains unconvinced that any legislation is necessary.  While both bills seek to provide consumers “protection” from online behavioral advertising practices, none of the sponsors has demonstrated any consumer harm that needs to be addressed.  By imposing unnecessary restrictions and regulations, the bills are likely to have the unintended consequence of undercutting Internet businesses and stifling one of the most vibrant and growing areas of the economy.

The Kerry-McCain bill, in particular, would give wide discretion to the Federal Trade Commission to set the standards for, and oversee, industry safe harbor programs, in effect turning industry self-regulation into a form of government regulation.

Much of what the sponsors of both bills are trying to accomplish is already being implemented by the industry through the new Online Behavioral Advertising Self-Regulatory Program.  AAF has partnered with many associations and companies to develop this robust new program.  Consumers and businesses can go to www.aboutads.info or click on the Advertising Option Icon, which can be seen in countless ads across the Internet, to learn more about the program.  Consumers may opt-out of having their data collected and used for online behavioral advertising and businesses can learn how to sign up to participate.

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House Approved Net Neutrality Measure

The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Google over allegations that the company misled consumers over privacy issues during the rollout of Google’s Buzz social network.  While Google did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, it did apologize for mistakes made during the rollout.  Under the terms of the settlement, Google is prohibited from misrepresenting its privacy practices and is required to obtain users’ consent before sharing their information with third parties.

Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., said the settlement demonstrates the need for legislation establishing baseline privacy protections such as that which the Senator is currently drafting.  The Obama administration has recently said it supports legislation, as well.

The Federal Trade Commission has not explicitly endorsed legislation, but it has called for companies to take voluntary actions to protect privacy, including the establishment of a do-not-track program.  FTC officials recently acknowledged that the agency has limited authority over websites that do not honor a consumers’ choice not to be tracked. 

AAF and a number of allied associations and companies have unveiled a self-regulatory program that accomplishes much of what the legislators and regulators would like to see implemented.  Information about participating in the program can be found at www.aboutads.info.

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