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ANA & The 4A’s condemn IAB’s ‘acerbic’ anti-privacy stance in damning statement

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By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

January 31, 2023 | 7 min read

The two organizations have issued a collective statement condemning recent comments by David Cohen, CEO at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, who criticized the growing data privacy movement last week.

The ANA and the 4A's are rallying against statements made by IAB CEO David Cohen about consumer privacy

The ANA and the 4A’s are rallying against statements made by IAB CEO David Cohen about consumer privacy

Two advertising industry trade organizations, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), today issued a joint statement in response to comments made by David Cohen, the chief executive at another trade body, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) last week.

In particular, the ANA and the 4A’s take issue with Cohen’s decision at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting last week to employ political rhetoric to criticize policymakers and tech companies like Apple who are advancing various consumer data privacy initiatives. Cohen used inflammatory language, calling privacy industry leaders “extremists” and likening data privacy to war, saying that privacy proponents are “attacking” the marketing and advertising sector “from the inside out.”

Data privacy has become a hot-button issue in the industry in recent years, with tech giants like Google and Apple responding to consumers’ demands for greater control over their information with new policies that limit advertisers’ ability to track user behavior across the open web. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Europe, the US and other international markets are increasingly introducing – and enacting – laws that give consumers more say in how, when and why their data is collected, stored and sold. In the US alone, five new state-level data privacy laws are slated to go into effect this year and officials at the Federal Trade Commission are in the process of creating new privacy rules for businesses.

Advertising industry bodies including the ANA and the 4A’s, have largely proven supportive and receptive to such changes, advocating for innovation on both the brand and agency side to help create new privacy-respecting tech and modes of ad targeting and measurement.

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In response to Cohen’s incendiary language last week, the ANA and the 4A’s said they “do not believe that the IAB’s posture is sufficiently balanced.” They called Cohen’s remarks “a tirade against the forces that disagree with our industry” and said that they “reject the acerbic tone, texture and prescriptions offered by the IAB” at its Annual Leadership Meeting.

The two organizations suggested that Cohen’s arguments favored “the short-term sugar highs of polarizing political rhetoric” over “the art of nuance and listening” on the issue of consumer data privacy. They condemned the demonization of lawmakers and privacy industry changemakers.

Instead, the ANA and the 4A’s called for more productive collaboration and problem-solving around the issue. In their statement, the groups pointed to “examples of leadership” – including the Media Ratings Council, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and the Digital Advertising Alliance – that have proven useful in tackling other challenges facing the industry through “responsibility” and “self-regulation.”

The ANA and the 4A’s said they recognize that the ad industry is “far from perfect,” and made the case for future-looking, collaborative problem-solving. “As responsible marketers, we need to continue to put forward reasonable recommendations that provide balance for marketers, agencies, platforms, media, ad tech and… consumers. We can’t just duck our heads and hope that no one will notice. That is most relevant with respect to the issues surrounding privacy.”

The groups continued, saying: “The road is long on these issues and alienating the very parties that we need to work with to achieve balanced consensus is not the path to take. At the end of the day, members of Congress and regulators are doing a hard job to the best of their ability and are seeking to find harmony among a lot of competing interests. Demonizing them does us no favors. To that end, let’s work constructively within our industry and with those in the regulatory and legislative arenas while simultaneously turning down the heat on the rhetoric. Instead, let’s focus on cultivating real solutions and meaningful allies.”

In response to the joint statement, IAB’s Cohen said in a statement shared with The Drum: “Rather than be divisive, the goal of my opening keynote was to rally the industry and instill a sense of urgency so that we can work together to build a healthy and sustainable ad-supported digital industry. It was also to accurately reflect the interests of our members which now include all sides of the digital ecosystem.”

Cohen assured that the IAB has “deep respect for Congress and appreciates all the work going towards national privacy reform.” Still, he raised concerns with what he called “a perception issue,” arguing, “The negativity around the technology sector fueled by select viewpoints has the potential to adversely impact us all.”

He said he endorsed lawmakers' efforts to pass a federal privacy bill – a goal they inched closer to achieving last fall but that has since stagnated. “The industry must all work collaboratively to ensure we get a rational and sound national policy on data use,” Cohen said. “We look forward to working with legislators and regulators as well as the ANA, 4A’s and others over the coming months to develop solutions that work for all constituents: consumers, regulators and industry.”

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