October 31, 2016 Last Updated 1:07 pm

Publishers and Ad Industry caught between rock and hard place concerning FCC ruling

The publishing industry shouldn’t over react to new rules that will not, for now, apply to them, but the concerns of advertisers have merit, even if they have helped bring about the new rules due to bad ad practices

We have met the enemy, as Pogo would say, and he is us. The FCC has predictably adopted new rules that would require broadband Internet Service Providers to seek approval from consumers before sharing their data. It was a seen as a victory for consumers, but a loss for the ad industry. The 3 to 2 vote also was reflective of the priorities of the two political parties, with the two Republican commissioners giving voice to those who believe the ISPs should be able to continue to collect data of their customers usage.

The new rules are a shot across the bow, so to speak, and publishers should pay attention, lest they be surprised that these kinds of rules might get extended to them by the FTC.

First, understand that the rules are, in fact, limited to the broadband industry:

fcc-logo“The scope of the rules is limited to broadband service providers and other telecommunications carriers. The rules do not apply to the privacy practices of web sites and other “edge services” over which the Federal Trade Commission has authority. The scope of the rules do not include other services of a broadband provider, such as the operation of a social media website, or issues such as government surveillance, encryption or law enforcement,” the FCC statement read.

Nonetheless, many in the ad industry have reacted with horror.

“The Commission’s decision to break with the FTC’s proven privacy framework in favor of a cobbled-together approach that abandons principles of fair competition is profoundly disappointing,” the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said in a statement.

As a publisher or consumer, where you stand on all this may have to do with your attitude towards advertising, in general. Is advertising “content” or really the anti-content that publishers deliver.

Far too many publishers treat advertising as anti-content, things outside their editorial control, and so they allow for the most obnoxious ad practices. Those that do understand that good advertising is also content, are finally beginning to reconsider their use of such services as Outbrain and Taboola.

Quite a number of publishers know that there has been a data gap between what they can offer and what Google or Facebook can. Marketers want to know more about who they are advertising to, what their shopping habits are, and how effective their ad campaigns are. Is an ad providing “lift”?

“Data enhances the conversations between clients and agencies, providing a solid foundation for mutual collaboration,” Richard Benyon, CEO of Decideware, said in the ANA’s statement against the new rules. “As the legendary statistician W. Edwards Deming once said, ‘Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.’”

But it is certainly hypocritical of the ad industry to cry foul when they have been so slow to address the terrible ad practices their industry is employing. The industry is concerned about the growth in the use ad blockers, while only now beginning to admit that it has been its own practices that have forced consumers to use this solution in order to make many websites readable.

Advertising is content. I’d rather be delivered an ad irrelevant to me than one that is not. But I also would rather read a website that doesn’t force me to close two or three windows first before accessing the story I want, or one that doesn’t make me rush to turn off my computer speakers because a site is using auto-play videos to force an ad down my throat.

I want good advertising, but if I can’t have it I would prefer none. Allowing data collection helps deliver relevant, effective advertising. But when the ad industry, and publishers, utilize the worst ad practices, consumers wisely wonder why they should be allowed to violate their privacy by collecting their app and web usage data.

“Subjecting virtually all web browsing and application use data to opt-in consent is completely inconsistent with its long-standing treatment by the FTC, the states, and the Digital Advertising Alliance self-regulatory program,” the ANA said in its statement objecting to the new rules.

For now, publishers should be happy that the FCC rules are limited in scope to broadband service providers.

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