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Q&A

Wrestling with Privacy in a World of Ad Tracking

The Interactive Advertising Bureau was formed in 1996, right at the moment when the internet was beginning its slow erosion of traditional media. As more consumers began getting their news and entertainment online, publishers needed an arbiter of standards and practices to help make it comfortable for advertisers to follow them there. That task fell to IAB.

Over time, IAB’s mission grew from setting the technical standards by which ads are sold, to concerns about regulation and data privacy, said Alison Pepper, its director of public policy. The organization has dealt with the uproar this spring over non-viewable ads and the ongoing struggle among publishers and advertisers over how to clean up the industry.

Ms. Pepper said the biggest issues right now for the organization have been around the policy of data privacy, working with consumer advocacy groups to ensure that people have the choice to keep their browsing habits private. It’s been a tricky issue: One of the great advantages of digital advertising is the ability to track and target a precise cross-section of consumers, but advertisers and consumers are understandably wary about how much information they should be giving over.

In a conversation with The Information, Ms. Pepper talked about the evolving nature of privacy, what levels of data sharing really do cross the line and whether ad blockers are ethical. An edited transcript is below.

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A lot of the issues about data is an issue of acculturation, but there’s always something new on the horizon that will present new issues. To say that regulation won’t matter would in a sense mean that there’s no innovation, and then you’re really screwed. Innovation is about pushing boundaries. Right now the FTC has been holding workshops on facial recognition technology.  It seems creepy now, but in 10 years we might be comfortable about how its used. It makes sense to ask questions now, but if there weren’t the questions that would mean we weren’t innovating.

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