Blog

Submitted by NAI on January 20, 2017

by William Lee and Grant Nelson

The FTC held PrivacyCon 2017 on Thursday, January 12th. Eighteen researchers were selected from about 70 submissions to present their findings to attendees and participate in short audience Q&A. The presentations were delivered through 5 sessions: "Internet of Things and Big Data," "Mobile Privacy," "Consumer Privacy Expectations," "Online Behavioral Advertising," and "Information Security." Please see the agenda with links to the presented research is here.

Here are the highlights for NAI members:

  • Overall, PrivacyCon 2017 was less critical of the online advertising industry than PrivacyCon 2016.
  • Researchers continued to focus on the prevalence of trackers across the mobile and online ecosystems, particularly in the context of cross-device.
  • Research noted the rise in adblockers, but equivocated the growth with an increased consumer interest in privacy.
  • Consumers recognize the value of targeted advertising when done in a privacy-respecting manner, some research shows.
  • Machine learning and AI-enhanced research and analysis methods are increasingly common in privacy research papers.

Below we've outlined some of the research highlights relevant to NAI members.

 

Researchers continued to focus on the prevalence of trackers across the mobile and online ecosystems, particularly in the context of cross-device.

Several presentations focused on various methods of analyzing data collection using different trackers. For example, Princeton researchers are running a monthly scan of the top one million websites and tracking how many third party URLs are called, and comparing changes. They noted that fewer companies enjoy an increasing share of the total trackers deployed. Research on mobile devices is also picking up, with researchers developing an app that allows a non-rooted Android device to intercept and modify all network traffic in order to analyze third party connections. Increasingly, research shows that consumers are less concerned about their data being collected and more interested in knowing the specific information about them that is being collected and shared. For example, every respondent in one study (n=21) reported they cared more about the information collected than they cared about tracking in general. The researcher emphasized that companies collecting information should clearly explain what data they collect. For NAI members, these findings are in line with the Code requirements to provide clear notice of data collection practices for IBA.

 

Research noted the rise in adblockers, but equivocated the growth with an increased consumer interest in privacy.

One researcher presented an anti-anti-ad-blocker. The extension blocks websites' requests to users to disable their adblockers. During the presentation, the speaker claimed that the rise in adblocker installs could be primarily explained by users who are seeking to protect their privacy. The paper, however, also mentions consumer "annoyance" with ads as being a major issue facing the online advertising ecosystem, motivating adblocker use. Through the Code and other efforts, the NAI is constantly working to address consumer privacy concerns. Regarding consumer annoyance, the NAI is working on solutions with the Coalition for Better Ads. Beyond those issues, a number of audience questions for this presenter pushed back on the feasibility of requiring consumers to pay for content that they'd otherwise receive for free via the ad-supported model. One audience member even questioned the free speech implications of potential consolidation in media sources if consumers were required to buy subscriptions.

 

Consumers recognize the value of targeted advertising when done in a privacy-respecting manner, some research shows.

One study (n=35) analyzing the pros and cons of online tracking from a consumer perspective asked respondents to identify settings in which they found tracking to be either beneficial or not. 74% of respondents found online tracking "beneficial" when it delivered them targeted ads rather than generic ads. At the same time, only 31% of respondents cited website customization as a benefit of online tracking. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents said ads could be "not beneficial," largely when they found the ads objectionable. The concerns cited included seeing the same ad repeatedly, using sensitive information to target the ad, or seeing the ad out of context. Another study investigating consumer reactions to privacy choices found nearly identical results. Namely, that consumers dislike seeing the same ad repeatedly, do not want ads targeted based on sensitive information, and are more comfortable with ads that match the content of the page on which they are displayed. The NAI Codes address these concerns by permitting ad frequency capping to limit the number of times a consumer sees the same ad and prohibiting ad targeting on sensitive information unless the consumer opts in.

 

Machine learning and AI-enhanced research and analysis methods are increasingly common in privacy research papers.

A common theme among both the submissions and accepted papers was the increased use of automation and machine learning for research into and investigation of privacy practices. Researchers presented papers that utilized machine learning and automation to analyze thousands of privacy policies and compare the policies to apps' or websites' observed behavior. Other research attempted to interpret a user's past privacy choices using machine learning to automate future ones, only prompting the user when the system is unsure of the user's preference. Two presentations utilized automated analysis of network traffic between a device, including a non-rooted one, and the internet to identify what information is being shared, including PII leaks. The NAI has been using automated technical monitoring tools for several years and appreciates the efforts of the community to adopt such technology. Further, the NAI is investigating how to improve our automated tools by incorporating machine-learning techniques.

Submitted by NAI on October 7, 2016

NAI has joined forces with industry leaders from around the globe as a founding member of the Coalition for Better Ads. The Coalition, which was created to improve consumers' experience with online advertising, leverages consumer insights and cross-industry expertise to develop and implement new global standards for online advertising. 

NAI member companies have long believed that a better consumer advertising experience is better for digital advertising.  Our support for the Coalition reflects not only NAI's traditional forte of ensuring responsible data collection and use with promoting responsible consumer privacy practices, but also a commitment to a better overall digital environment - one that gives consumers the best our industry has to offer in terms of customization, choice, content, and creativity. 

The Coalition was formed by the digital advertising industry's largest trade associations, representing a cross industry aspiration to make digital advertising better.  The Coalition shows that, as the Internet continues to develop, the consumer online advertising experience must also adapt to ensure that it responds to consumers’ evolving expectations. In reaching towards the goal of an elevated advertising experience, NAI will help direct the coalition’s mission and strategy. 

Our efforts will benefit not just consumers in the US, but globally. Through the Coalition, we will work towards standards that can be applied not just to the domestic US markets, but also internationally. The Coalition was first announced in Cologne, Germany during the Dmexco conference and a selection of the founding members include the European Publishers Council, IAB Europe, IAB Tech Labs, and the World Federation of Advertisers, as well as global  companies such as Facebook and Google. 

Over the past weeks, the Coalition has also gotten the attention of global media! With over 100 articles worldwide from leading trade and national publications, the Coalition, and its mission, has made a definitive impact.  Check out these pieces from Business Insider and AdWeek.

So, all of that is really exciting! But, now what? Here are some next steps:

  • The Coalition is working on showcasing consumer research that will drive change throughout the industry and highlight the types of ads and experiences consumers don't want, as well as those they do. 
  • The Coalition has initiated working groups dedicated to technology and the creation of standards intended to ensure great ad experiences for consumers, as well as working groups thinking about the public policy implications of the Coalition's work, and how companies can be held accountable for standards and best practices that will be developed. These working groups will begin their efforts shortly - and will report back to the Coalition members periodically to highlight their important work.
  • How can you help? Here are a couple of options:
    • Let NAI be your voice. As one of the founding members, NAI will help to form the long term outlook and strategy for the Coalition, as well as develop accountability practices and standards. Please give us your feedback; we will be directly involved in the working groups and the governing body, so we will ensure that the advertising technology industry is well represented. We welcome your input; please don't be shy!
    • Join the Coalition directly. Several NAI members have already made an individual commitment to the Coalition, separate and apart from NAI's founding membership. If you're interested in being more directly involved, please let us know and we will put you in touch with the Coalition's coordinators.

The Coalition's work will greatly benefit the online advertising industry as well as raise the customer advertising experience.  NAI will provide regular updates on the Coalition's activities in the coming months.  For additional information, please visit the Coalition's website at https://www.betterads.org/.

Submitted by NAI on August 29, 2016

By Leigh Freund

We are now just 70 days from the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Between the constant commercials and upcoming debates, Americans are making their decisions. But, too often, voters do not know critical Election Day information like where they will vote, what they will need to get a ballot, or even what’s on the ballot.

To make sure voters can find accurate information, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Google, and state election officials joined forces to create the Voting Information Project (VIP). VIP’s 50-state, free resource tells voters what they need to know to cast a ballot on or before Election Day – all without requiring any personally identifiable information.

On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, I will be joined by leaders from Pew for an NAI webinar to discuss this important project and share information on how NAI members can get involved.

One of the things I like most about NAI members is that they are industry leaders who give back to their communities by, among other things, applying innovative technologies to help society. For example, NAI members have been instrumental in helping the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) deliver critical severe weather warnings and AMBER alerts to geo-targeted audiences, saving many lives in the process. VIP is another opportunity to use innovative technologies to solve a very real societal challenge.

VIP was founded to address the problems caused by a lack of centralized, reliable Election Day information. I know NAI members will be excited about the opportunity to learn more about VIP and find ways to work together.

VIP has a track record of success. In the days before the 2014 mid-term election, their website and services helped more than 31 million people find their polling places and get ballot information via web search, Facebook, media websites, third party groups, and more.

During the webinar, we will explore some of VIP’s features including:

  • GettothePolls.com, a website that allows voters to enter their addresses and find the locations and hours of their polling places, as well as get ballot information.
  • The Voting Information Tool, a mobile-friendly, customizable tool that can be placed on a website and used to provide official voting information, including polling locations, in 16 languages.

We will also discuss the ways in which companies can boost VIP’s work, especially through unsold advertising space. It is important to remember that some voters will not seek out voting information, which makes it all the more important that it be accessible on websites that users frequent and trust. We’ll also want to hear from webinar participants about other ideas for spreading the word.

With early voting beginning in some states in about one month, this webinar is timely and relevant. We are looking forward to our discussion on how businesses can help voters make their voices heard in the 2016 election. Please join us!

Submitted by NAI on June 6, 2016

By Gary A. Kibel, Partner, Digital Media, Technology & Privacy, Davis & Gilbert LLP

In April, I followed the advice of a former resident of my hometown to “Go west, young man,” and attended the 2016 NAI Summit in San Francisco. Little did I know that a quiet summit would erupt with fireworks when the FTC seemed to challenge the very foundation of the NAI Code of Conduct.

There has long been a disconnect between the industry and regulators regarding what constitutes personally identifiable information (PII). Without one consistent statutory definition of PII or personal data, the parties are left to push their respective agendas. The NAI Code has a clear and workable definition. The FTC, however, views persistent identifiers such as device identifiers, MAC addresses, static IP addresses or cookies that can be reasonably linked to a particular person, computer or device as PII. With the exception of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), however, this is more an aspirational approach than a legal requirement.

The FTC’s mention of this broader yet noncommittal reading of the definition of PII reveals a bit of a regulatory vacuum in this evolving area. It is therefore important for all participants in the adtech ecosystem to be engaged and continue to establish and follow best practices that respect privacy and encourage innovation in this rapidly changing environment. The need for thorough and thoughtful self-regulatory organizations such as the NAI could never be more apparent.