Privacy, content and ethics are critical issues for companies seeking to get one step ahead, says Gabrielle Robitaille, Digital Policy Manager at WFA.
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Cookies under mounting pressure
Two years ago, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in the EU. Since then it has become the model for privacy regulation across the world but there remain teething problems.
With GDPR-related fines on the rise, EU data protection authorities have published new – and sometimes conflicting – advice on how companies should manage privacy requirements for cookies and other types of tracker on their websites.
This has resulted in legal uncertainty for many companies, and, with privacy regulations emerging in more than 120 countries around the world, brands need to be accountable for the way their consumers’ data is shared with other companies.
To help members navigate the global privacy regulation landscape, WFA has partnered up with privacy tech company, Global Data Bank, to provide a data safety tool that enables companies to visualise the risk they are currently exposed to through their use of trackers and cookies. It also lets them compare their performance with other companies across different sectors and geographies.
Advertisers may also need to start looking at alternatives to the traditional tracker – the cookie – as further changes in regulation and increasing restrictions imposed by browsers start to emerge.
For example, an agreement to the EU ePrivacy Regulation (an update to the legislation currently regulating the use of online trackers and tags, including cookies) could be on the horizon. The proposal contains a number of measures that could have a significant impact on the way advertisers collect data; consent would be the only legal basis for collecting data via trackers and it could mandate how, where and when consent should be gathered.
This means that if consumers do not opt-in, advertisers would face roadblocks in carrying out crucial data-processing activities, including those designed to measure ad effectiveness, ensure brand safety and prevent ad fraud. Member States have been negotiating this update for more than three years and it could come into force somewhere between 2022 and 2023.
Furthermore, advertisers are facing increasing restrictions by browsers. Earlier this year, Google announced plans to phase out third-party cookies by the end of 2021. This will inevitably lead to a fundamental shift in how digital advertising works, forcing marketers to look towards alternative solutions and the use of first-party data.
Online platforms are under increased scrutiny over harmful content
Brand safety, in other words brands’ efforts to prevent their ads from appearing next and inadvertently funding, illegal content, is a top priority for advertisers. This is why last year WFA set up the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a cross-industry initiative that brings together the key stakeholders of the advertising ecosystem. The goal is to reduce economic incentives and prevent the spread of harmful content online.
However, tackling illegal and harmful content online has now also become a priority for policymakers. This is why we’ve seen the emergence of regulation aimed at taking a much more coercive and punitive stance toward social media platforms, to compel them into taking greater responsibility for the content they host.
The debate around regulating online platforms is most advanced in the EU. The European Commission announced in February that a series of legislative proposals, known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), will be launched by the end of the year. The DSA will not only update the EU’s 20-year old liability rules for digital platforms but also clarify the role and responsibilities they have in preventing the proliferation of illegal and harmful content online. The DSA has the potential to be the most far-reaching piece of legislation regulating online platforms to date, and just like the GDPR, it could become a model for other initiatives around the world.
The US is also looking at regulating online platforms. Following Twitter’s decision to label a number of President Trump’s tweets as potentially misleading, the US President signed an executive order that would prevent media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from benefitting from special liability protection. Under US law, online platforms have broad immunity from liability for the content posted by their users.
The Federal Communications and Federal Trade Commissions must now come up with possible new rules that would limit that immunity. The US Justice Department is also expected to propose a major update to the US Communications Decency Act in order to incentivise platforms to take more measures to address illicit content.
Data ethics has risen up the agenda
In recent years, the advertising industry has faced mounting regulatory and societal pressures around how it collects and uses personal data beyond existing privacy regulations. Consumers expect more transparency, control and choice over how their data is shared and used.
With consumer trust in advertising at an all-time low, advertisers are increasingly recognising that they have a crucial role to play in fostering greater trust in the digital ecosystem and driving positive change in society. New research shows that 74% of CMOs believe that data ethics will be more important to their role in the next five years. The advertising industry must look beyond regulation and compliance to champion the transparent and ethical use of consumer data.
WFA’s Data Ethics Board has released the world’s first guide on data ethics in marketing. It provides clear guidance on how to ensure organisations always use data in an ethical way and what actions CMOs can take to promote the issue across their companies. These steps will be crucial in addressing the gap between what brands can do, and what they should do.