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Collaboration Is King, Only It Will End The Great Privacy Debate

Early in my career, one of my mentors introduced me to the concept of collaboration… she did this by telling me a story about compromise. She told me about a young couple that had recently gotten married and had just bought their first house — their dream house. The husband really wanted a red house. The wife really wanted a white house. Because the couple was so in love, they decided to compromise and paint their new house pink.

Weeks after the paint had dried, the husband and wife finally admitted to each other that they both hated the pink house. That night, while enjoying a wonderful dinner, they decided, together, to repaint the house. Together they decided to paint the house white and to paint the shutters and accents red — they also both wanted a white picket fence. Two week later, the couple were living in a white house with red shutters and accents, and truly living in their dream house. While that story impacted me at the time, and set me on a ‘collaborative’ career path, I haven’t thought of it for many years. I found myself thinking of it recently however, given all the hubbub being generated throughout the online ad business over the issue of privacy.

To catch everyone up on things… First, there has been a long-standing debate about privacy on the internet and how that privacy affects the relevance of ads that online consumers are ultimately exposed to. Second, commercial entities have begun to pick sides in the great privacy debate, with Apple siding with privacy advocates and pushing tech changes into the marketplace that enhance and ensure consumer privacy. Third, many companies — in fact, most companies — have been battling back against the purveyors of privacy, arguing that privacy is essentially a non-issue and consumers would hate the online advertising experience if significant changes were forced upon the market by over-reaching regulation.

Now that you are all caught up… I was a bit surprised by the keynote address at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in late January. IAB CEO David Cohen was not at all subtle in stating his position, talking of “extremist attacks” against our industry and referring to people (or at least some people) inside the Washington beltway as political opportunists. He also called out the “cynicism and hypocrisy” of Apple. Sitting in my chair in that Fort Myers conference room, I immediately knew Cohen’s speech was going to garner significant attention in the trade press, for days, perhaps even weeks.

Following the IAB speech, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) produced and distributed a joint statement which surprised me a lot. While the statement was less fiery than the IAB speech it was drafted to combat, it could have been toned down a bit. Also, releasing a ‘joint’ statement in the days before President Biden was delivering his State Of The Union to a ‘joint’ session of Congress was a bit over the top. The joint statement took things up an order of magnitude. Continued banter around the issue of privacy, and the IAB keynote address, at early February’s 4A’s Decision conference in New York City and last week’s 2023 ANA Media Conference in Orlando hasn’t helped matters.

The privacy issue will be sorted out when all stakeholders come together and collaborate around this wildly complex issue. Only after Federal regulators and members of Congress sit down with corporate leaders — from companies including Apple and Alphabet, among others — and leaders from the IAB, the ANA and the 4A’s, will we be able to put this issue to rest. Collaboration between these stakeholders is necessary for the online ad business to realize a positive outcome. Only collaboration will net us our dream house: a white house, with red shutters and accents, and a white picket fence.


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