Jan 19, 2022 - Technology

Ad lobby launches campaign to defend targeted ads amid D.C. crackdown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) on Wednesday launched a new campaign called "Internet for Growth" that aims to spotlight stories of small businesses which rely on advertising-supported internet platforms.

Why it matters: The push comes amid heightened scrutiny over targeted advertising by D.C. policymakers.

  • "We have the responsible and reasonable use of data being demonized in Washington," said IAB CEO David Cohen in an interview. "There's a torrent of negativity."

Driving the news: Democrats on Tuesday introduced a new bill, called "The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act," that would "prohibit targeted advertising by advertising facilitators and advertisers, and for other purposes."

  • The bill, which has versions in both the House and Senate, is one of a number of attempts on Capitol Hill to protect internet users' privacy. DuckDuckGo, which offers a non-tracking browser, and consumer rights groups support the bill.
  • “Surveillance advertising is a predatory and invasive practice. The hoarding of people’s personal data not only abuses privacy, but also drives the spread of misinformation, domestic extremism, racial division, and violence,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a sponsor of the Senate bill.

The big picture: While there's bipartisan frustration with Big Tech giants in Congress, it's unlikely this particular bill will get much momentum.

  • A gridlocked Congress has yet to prioritize the passage of a national privacy law, leaving states to pass their own individual measures and the U.S. to catch up as Europe and other countries take the lead with privacy legislation.
  • The IAB argues in its new campaign that adhering to various state rules is burdensome for small businesses that rely on ad-supported marketing.

Context: The IAB is a lobbying group that represents over 700 publishers, ad agencies and brands, including some of the world's biggest tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Details: The IAB's campaign includes 250 testimonials from small businesses around the country about ways their businesses benefit from targeted ads. Cohen says those businesses "are not being compensated in any way, shape or form" for their participation.

  • The campaign will target local lawmakers as well with outreach via local press, local events, and more. For now, the campaign is purely education, but as time goes on, "we will turn our attention to particular policy issues and regulation," Cohen said, leveraging the "goodwill this campaign will generate."

The other side: Those opposed to data gathering for targeted ads argue that it enables the spread of disinformation online.

  • Earlier this month, consumer advocacy groups like Fight for the Future and Public Citizen delivered a petition to Congress signed by more than 24,000 people calling for the passage of a national privacy law to "shut down Facebook's surveillance machine."

Between the lines: Many internet giants have changed their tune on privacy regulation over the past few years, given how much the tech and regulatory landscape has changed.

  • It wasn't that long ago that IAB advocated against a national privacy law, arguing that the industry could-self regulate. In 2018, when it became clear that states were beginning to advocate their own patchwork of bills, IAB said it would support a nationwide privacy law.
  • Salesforce on Wednesday renewed its call for a national privacy law "to protect people and provide businesses with certainty," it said in a statement.
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