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NAI Publishes 2020 Annual Report

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) recently published its 2020 Annual Report, which provides us with an opportunity to reflect on an unprecedented year, as the pandemic slowed many industries, and recently announced changes to the Chrome browser and iOS 14,  coupled with new state legislation, increased the urgency for the digital media and advertising industries to rethink many current practices, particularly how to recognize users and devices.

In the midst of these significant developments, NAI member companies continued to demonstrate their commitment to the highest standards for privacy in digital advertising. The NAI has been enforcing its 2020 NAI Code of Conduct (Code), which introduced a host of additional notice and choice requirements for data collection and use more broadly, as well as extending the NAI’s coverage to offline data used to target digital advertising, also known as “onboarding.”

In spite of workforce challenges and resource shortages caused by the pandemic, and the uncertainty caused by evolving technology standards and new state laws, NAI members demonstrated that they understand the very real privacy concerns that are behind many of these changes, and that they are ready to address these challenges by devoting further resources and time to consumer privacy protection.

The report is based on findings from the 2020 compliance period in which 87 returning member companies, all leading third-party digital advertising companies, were reviewed during the year by NAI staff for compliance with the Code. Companies new to the NAI underwent an equally stringent review as part of their membership application process in 2020 and will join the annual review program in 2021.

The NAI would like to thank its members for all of the work they put into the 2020 compliance review process as they continued their record of strong compliance with the Code in a most-difficult year.. NAI staff found that in 2020 evaluated member companies once again overwhelmingly complied with the Code, and that to the extent that any potential violations were identified, they were not material in nature.

The previous year, the NAI noted inconsistent compliance with the requirements of the NAI’s Connected TV Guidance, which was newly enforced in 2019. In 2020, these requirements were incorporated into the NAI Code.  After the NAI’s educational efforts and related compliance warnings in 2019, NAI staff observed significant improvement in evaluated member companies’ disclosures regarding connected televisions and information about privacy controls on those devices. 

Overall, NAI staff observed strong compliance from nearly all members, including the presence of many new disclosures required as of 2020, and significant work done to advance the technical development of an Opt-Out Mechanism for Audience-Matched Advertising and just-in-time notice for the collection of Precise Location Information. Evaluated member companies demonstrated that they remain vigorously committed to the NAI’s self-regulatory framework. 

The report also provided an update on the NAI’s other endeavors, which included the publication of two Guidance documents, on modelling health data and non-marketing uses of advertising data over the course of the prior year, and fifteen all-member calls and webinars, including several to address the pandemic and how the digital advertising industry can support public health efforts. 

The NAI’s public policy work further expanded in 2020, with efforts to help shape CCPA implementing regulations, promote a national privacy framework, and engaging with state policymakers to help avoid a patchwork of disparate state consumer privacy laws. The NAI was an active participant in the CCPA implementing regulations process, including multiple sets of comments. The NAI also provided its expertise in digital advertising through testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee and active participation as an executive committee member in the Privacy for America coalition. 

The NAI is perhaps even more relevant now than ever before, as it helps the digital advertising and media industry speak with a united voice, while anticipating the consumer privacy challenges that come with new addressability methods and responding with clear and timely guidance, even as the technological and legislative landscape is in a state of rapid evolution. The NAI welcomed six new members in 2020, with several more applying in 2020 with the goal of joining the NAI in 2021. Over sixteen million users visited the NAI’s opt-out page in 2020, which is more than a 50% increase from 2018 when the page launched.

At a time when the nature of digital advertising is being questioned and reconsidered globally, it is even more important for self-regulatory efforts in the United States to clearly demonstrate that a thoughtful and flexible approach can provide robust consumer privacy protection, while also assessing if and how these efforts might evolven into a “co-regulatory” approach with state and federal regulators, allowing digital advertising technology, and the internet economy more broadly, to flourish. In 2020, as always, the NAI’s primary mission is to enable responsible data-driven advertising to provide free and equal consumer access to robust digital media.