Privacy: It’s No Secret that 2015 Could Be a Big Year

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For privacy, 2014 was interesting, even fascinating at times, but I wouldn’t call it exciting. In 2015, I think we’re going to see a lot more action.

2014 was a lot of thinking, dialoging, and preparing for changes to come. For example, in May, the White House released its Big Data Report, the result of a series of stakeholder meetings and pondering about the future of privacy in a world of Big Data. Also in May, the Federal Trade Commission released its Data Brokers report. Later, in September, the FTC hosted a public workshop about Big Data and discrimination. These reports don’t set policy, but they do frame the debate and make suggestions for shaping the future.

There was a real change in California in the form of an amendment to the state’s Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA) that came into effect in January. It upped the requirements for companies’ privacy disclosures, including disclosures about how they respond to Do Not Track (DNT). It did not, however, produce significant changes in how companies do business. So, it influenced thinking and altered the debate, but didn’t drive big change.

The ad industry, too, produced some important work that sets the stage for the coming year. The NAI released to its members a draft policy guidance document on the use of non-cookie technologies. Also in 2014, companies began implementing compliance with the NAI Mobile Code, which fully comes into effect in 2015.

There were some big changes we thought might materialize in 2014, but didn’t. “Do Not Track” did not arrive, as the W3C DNT working group saw leadership changes and significant attrition. Also, Europe did not manage to finalize a General Data Protection Regulation, as some hoped, or even expected, might happen in 2014. Unsurprisingly, but significant, we did not see any US federal privacy legislation get traction.

Finally, we can’t talk about privacy in 2014 without mentioning Edward Snowden. The surveillance practices that Snowden brought to light continued to influence privacy debates throughout the year, and up to today. It’s especially had an impact on transnational privacy discussions between the EU and the US, and is being used to leverage reforms in the US-EU Safe Harbor, which is widely viewed in Europe as ineffective.

With conversations swirling around big data, privacy, and competition, the stage is set for 2015 to be a year of significant change. The industry itself has changed enormously– we’re reaching a new state with programmatic at the forefront, and new data-driven business models popping up. At the same time, there is a wave of consolidation across the industry. Changes in privacy are going to have to catch up with the market.

Here at AppNexus, we’re thinking about these questions a lot: how to do things the right way in the immediate term, but also how to chart a path to a future of not just privacy-friendly advertising, but an Internet that fulfills all its promise.

Here are my tips and predictions for privacy in 2015:

  1. First, don’t become complacent. There was more talk and less action in 2014, but don’t expect it to stay that way.
  2. To that point, we should expect action from the FTC, as it reigns in edgy business practices, and looks for opportunities to draw some fences around Big Data.
  3. Self-regulation is lagging the marketplace a bit, but look for a big push to catch up in 2015. In fact, the FTC’s Jessica Rich exhorted us to do so in her speech at an AdExchanger event in January
  4. Don’t underestimate the importance of Europe. They’re having BIG conversations about privacy and our digital future. There’s a very good chance they will finalize a general data protection regulation, but there’s also a lot more on the table. In privacy, lately, as goes Europe so goes much of the globe.
  5. Do Not Track is all but dead and almost certainly irrelevant. Even though what’s left of the W3C working group trundles on, it’s widely recognized that their process won’t produce a credible standard. Moreover, when DNT was proposed, the online world was very different. DNT is a blunt instrument that arose from a simpler time. The future of privacy lies in more nuanced solutions.
  6. Snowden’s (and others’) disclosures about government surveillance will continue to influence the privacy debate. What the public learned in those exposed documents has fueled significant distrust in not only government, but in the online world in general (and rightly so). These are big issues we can’t just hope will go away—we have to become engaged and take action to protect Internet users, and to restore their trust.


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