The ad networks and data brokers who track and trade online user information aren't the most cuddly bunch, from a public relations standpoint. So the Interactive Advertising Bureau makes a point of spotlighting the small publishers who benefit from online advertising technologies like behavioral tracking in an annual lobbying event called the Washington Fly-In. The IAB hopes this entrepreneurial group shows lawmakers the the human side of an industry that is often depicted as remote and faceless.
Though there isn't any pending privacy legislation in front of Congress, about 50 publishers who will take to Capitol Hill on Monday for meetings with members including Communications and Technology Subcommittee members Bobby Rush, D-Ill. and Ed Towns, D-N.Y.
One such small publisher is Kyle McCarthy, who runs MyFamilyTravels.com out of an office in Manhattan's Chelsea district. She has four employees and her site brings in less than $250,000 per year. Her website, founded in 1996, uses ad networks to bring in most of its revenue. "We know behavioral tracking is out there. If it didn't perform well, we would trust that our ad networks would not be using those tools," she said.
"This is how the Internet was built," said IAB General Counsel Mike Zaneis. "Ad networks serve as middleman between thousands of marketers and millions of publishers."
McCarthy's thoughts about privacy regulations stem from her efforts to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which took effect in 2000. "I've seen how government regulations can be so broad and heavy-handed, that it ends up being a mass of confusion and a big expense for me, and something that might make our work untenable. " She says that from her point of view, lawyers "make more than anyone else in these kinds of regulatory transactions."
At the same time, from a consumer point of view, she understands efforts to put restrictions on the way users are tracked online. Government activism on the privacy issue, "made everybody pay attention and snap to," she said. She supports the kind of self-regulatory regime backed by the IAB, including a program called Ad Choices that allows users to opt out of tracking. At the same time, she admits to concerns about privacy.
"I don't trust everyone on the Internet," she says, "It's a madhouse out there."