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NAI is Needed Now More Than Ever: Why I Believe in Strong Self-Regulation

I am fascinated by Silicon Valley and, as an American, incredibly proud of  the innovation of US companies ranging from startups to household names.

Like most consumers, I’m hooked! I use most of the products and services developed in Silicon Valley every day.  A small sample: social networking, email, online shopping,  cloud backup services,  music streaming and  video sharing services. I love it. All of it. 

And yes, I am biased, but I also love the advertising that allows me to access all of these services free of charge – and the more creative and relevant the advertising experience, the more engaging, useful, and interesting it is. As a recently new parent, I’ve seen my online ads change from sports cars to minivans, based on my browsing patterns (this helped me find a great deal on a new family hauler!). 

Our nation’s tech innovation isn’t limited to Silicon Valley, but is spread across the entire US.  As a New Englander, I often travel to industry events in Boston, where I am pleased to see NAI member companies such as DataXu and Oracle (BlueKai).

My fascination with and love for tech doesn’t mean that I ignore the challenges faced by our industry.  In my experience, companies — or more precisely certain individuals at some companies — sometimes check their common sense at the door when it comes to the collection and use of consumer data. I don’t think it is malicious or evil, but it often is nearsighted.  Sometimes mistakes are made because of the complexity of our business and our rapidly changing business models.   These  actions impact the reputation of our entire industry.   When one company uses data irresponsibly or even makes an unintentional error, I’m concerned that it makes us all look bad and impacts consumer trust and public perceptions of our industry and specifically  NAI member companies. NAI members are industry leaders who are passionate about  creativity, innovation, competition, and the emergence of new and better methods of digital advertising to offer consumers a personalized experience and relevant advertising.  Of course, we want to see our members grow, succeed and profit and these companies show that playing by the rules is good for business.  

We believe that robust self-regulation with high standards backed up by ongoing compliance is the path to success for our industry.  High standards and evolving guidance help companies navigate the challenging waters of responsible data collection in the age of big data. We believe that flexible self-regulation, supported by compliance and enforcement, is better for both consumers and the industry than government regulations or legislation that cannot evolve as technology and business models evolve. 

This is why I love and believe in self-regulation, and why I am so passionate about the mission and the stated principles of NAI.  I believe that industry really benefits from strong self-regulation – high standards developed and enforced by industry.  But it can’t be a paper exercise.  It isn’t about optics.  It’s about protecting the viability of a system that provides the free, ad-supported, diverse, online content that consumers have come to expect by helping to ensure responsible data management and respect for consumers’ preferences online. 

NAI’s health standards are the best example of this.  Sure, companies can create audience segments about sensitive heath topics such as mental health, addiction, abuse, AIDS and other medical conditions.  Nonetheless, our members have decided we shouldn’t do that without affirmative consumer consent. That was a decision by our members who make up the NAI Board and our working groups.  This is also true for our standards for sexual orientation.   

As Counsel and Director of Compliance, I am very, very proud of what we do and I know that we are widely respected in DC today.  In my opinion, whether or not there is the risk of federal legislation on privacy,  NAI’s efforts to further expand our Code and lead the industry are needed now more than ever.

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