Ad industry warns of ‘dangerous’ new online privacy rules

The new rules, aimed at protecting people’s privacy online, could mean brands have to gain users’ approval before serving them ads based on their browsing history.

advertising privacy

The advertising industry has voiced its concerns about “dangerous” new EU privacy rules set to come into place, arguing it could “destroy the internet’s business model”.

The European Commission is in the midst of overhauling its data protection and privacy laws. After the approval of the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Directive for Law Enforcement Agencies, it is now reviewing the e-Privacy directive.

The directive contains rules on online data protection and also looks at confidentiality and tracking of digital communications.

The European Commission was set to publish its proposal on the e-Privacy directive in January next year, but the new rules came to light earlier this week after being leaked to Politico.

According to the proposal, the European Commission could force brands to seek permission from consumers before serving them advertisements based on their browsing history. Currently users have to opt out to avoid such ads.

It also suggests brands should seek permission from consumers when it comes to direct marketing activity, whether that be through instant messaging, email or text. Consumers should also be able to withdraw their consent more easily.

According to action groups, the new proposal provides the opportunity to protect consumers’ rights and privacy.

“We carry more intimate information on the devices in our pockets and on our wrists than most personal diaries. For instance, our browsing history alone can already tell a lot about us and who we are, where we are, what we do in our free time, our fears, our political views and our relationships,” Diego Naranjo, advocacy manager at action group European Digital Rights, says in a blog post.

“Unscrupulous companies now want to water down European rules on the privacy of our communications. This also increases threats to our freedoms – our freedom to have secrets, our freedom to be different or our freedom to make mistakes.”

The advertising industry, however, has not reacted positively to the news. Yves Schwarzbart, head of policy and regulatory affairs at the Internet Advertising Bureau, says people can sometimes forget that the internet has a similar advertising model to TV or radio, where consumers access content in return for being exposed to advertising. He believes the new rules threaten to destroy this model.

“Advertising is the number one revenue generator of the internet. These proposals could undermine that model, and could have a dangerous knock on effect on digital advertising and ultimately on the end-user who uses the internet,” he tells Marketing Week.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that [brands] have access to a wide variety of income sources, particularly smaller publishers as they monetise their content through advertising. But this is still a draft proposal and could change in 2017. There are an interesting few months ahead.”

Meanwhile, the Advertising Association (AA) says the new rules have to strike a fine balance, and that the proposal threatens to get it “very wrong”.

“Advertising funds so many of the internet services we enjoy – often for free – but that does not mean people’s privacy should not be respected. At face value, however, these proposals risk getting that balance very wrong,” concludes its communications director Ian Barber.

“It’s precisely that risk that the AA’s recent best practice principles are designed to help mitigate – helping companies earn people’s trust and confidence when using their data for marketing.”

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