Recently, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), through a committee of over a 150 heads within the interactive marketing industry put together a guideline for Social Advertising Best Practices. The IAB is a national organization made up of the world’s leading online advertising agencies. Their mission is to communicate statistics, speak for the industry with one voice, and fend off any limiting legislation that may impact the industry or slow down the growth of online advertising.
Over the past few years, the online advertising community has been under more scrutiny for how data collected about individual online surfing habits within Social Media is used and how it runs the risk of encroaching on individual privacy rights. Faced with threats of legislation from Congress, the IAB formed a committee to offer guidelines that would help inform the public about what individual data is collected on the social networking sites and how it is used within social ads.
As marketers begin exploring social networking sites – they are finding a treasure trove of data on individuals, their interests, social habits, and much more public and private data that cannot normally be collected in traditional advertising. Where I bought a book, who I discussed that book with, what I said about it, products that I talk about – are all just a small sampling of information that can be obtained. Privacy advocates argue that this information is being collected and shared without consumer permission and that this data has the potential to increase the onset of “Behavioral Targeting” and drive marketers to peer into the private data about individuals, violating their right to privacy, and potentially leading to various forms of profiling or other invasive uses.
First, the guidelines focus solely on that of “Social Ads” or those ads that “incorporates user interactions that the consumer has agreed to display and be shared. The resulting ad displays these interactions along with the user’s persona (picture and/or name) within the ad content.” Examples of these ads include banners ads where your picture is displayed or a quote by you. These ads may include personal (i.e. your age) or inter-personal (i.e. interactions between you and others) also known as “Social Graph”.
For consumers this is a win – an industry move, brought on by regulatory fears, that are steps to ensure that the public is aware of what information is being collected, how their information is being stored, collected, and used. Hopefully this prevents users from one day waking up to find their face plastered on an ad which they scarcely agreed to five years ago while quickly banging out a facebook profile! Expect to see more privacy checkboxes that are less legal and more up front about what they do.
For companies advertising via social ads, this is fully voluntary – but a safe bet to avoid consumer, industry and government backlash. Be sure you have communicated to the consumer what data is being collected and how it is to be communicated. For example, if a consumer has allowed their face to be used on an ad for toothpaste, ensure you have shown that consumer what that looks like before the world sees it. Also, be aware yourself what data you keep around, how it was obtained and when it was collected before it is used in any other advertising. Good policy is good business and being completely up-front with the user is the best approach (even at the risk of loosing the consumer’s permission). Approach the managing of this data as you do email addresses within the CAN-SPAM guidelines.
Traditionally, self-regulated industries do not go far enough to satisfy the concerns of privacy rights activists. Doing so would probably put both out of business. However, this is a good first step. Policy statements that come out from industry representatives such as the IAB are warning shots to advertisers and companies to watch out – there is more on the way.
Federal legislation has been, for good reason, apprehensive about jumping into the early regulation of Internet activities unless those activities are egregious (i.e. the protection of children, etc.). Legislation too early will risk becoming outdated before it becomes law. Social Networking, from a legislature’s view, is the second coming of the Internet – we have yet to even understand the complexities of it.
It would be silly to think that social media – including advertising practices within social networks – will not be regulated. It is inevitable. And when this legislation does come down – it will be by a much more educated legislature (since almost all members of Congress and the Senate are currently using it now as a prime way of communicating with their constituents). Companies would be wise to not only begin the process of establishing (or modifying their existing) a policy of how consumer data is managed and how their “customers” are protected.