RealTime IT News

MMA Pushes Privacy

The Mobile Marketing Association is taking tentative steps to promote consumer privacy -- especially when it comes to location-based ads -- with a set of preliminary standards for wireless advertising.

The New York-based group's guidelines include stipulations that its members not merge information on users' location with other data like name, address, and phone number unless the consumers give their consent via double opt-in.

The rules also specify that members -- especially wireless carriers -- must have consent before sharing subscribers' information with third parties (the rules, however, don't specify that consent has to be obtained through users' opting-in, so that such consent could be implied by dint of using the service).

Carriers and marketers also must fully disclose whether they are using or selling anonymous or aggregate location information for marketing purposes, and should provide ways for subscribers to opt-out of all programs and information-sharing.

While saying Tuesday's preliminary guidelines are less hard-and-fast rules than they are a "point of view" on how companies should conduct marketing in the age of location-based wireless tracking, the MMA said some version of the rules is likely to be adopted by the group's membership by summer. The group represents carriers including AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless; handset makers Nokia and Motorola ; and advertisers and agencies like Unilever and Ogilvy Interactive.

The finalized guidelines also are likely to include a stipulation that members make every reasonable effort to ensure that consumer data is not lost, misused, intercepted or altered.

"The MMA's point of view on location-based targeting is meant to both protect the consumer and further the growth of mobile marketing, providing a win-win situation for both subscribers and companies within the mobile industry," said Barry Peters, vice president of emerging media and relationship marketing at Carat Interactive, and chair of the MMA's North American privacy group. "With these suggested guidelines, we are initiating discussion on what needs to be done so that mobile marketing can continue to expand and be a viable option for both operators and marketers alike."

The move is aimed at curbing some of the privacy issues emerging out of efforts by the Federal Communications Commission for wireless carriers to provide so-called "Phase II" E911 services -- which can pinpoint cell phone users' positions in case of emergency.

Even before the FCC's three-year-old formal mandate -- deadlines for which wireless carriers are struggling to meet -- marketers had smelled the opportunity and fantasized about being able to deliver offers to users' cell phones based on their location. That's the scenario pictured in the oft-quoted Starbucks example, in which a user would pass in front of a coffee shop and receive a wireless coupon to encourage them to make a purchase.

Still, the industry's hopes have been dampened by not only the slow pace of the technology's rollout, but also by persistent questions about users' privacy. As a result, groups like the MMA (and the Wireless Advertising Association before it) are aiming to head off potential privacy concerns before the technology is nationally available.

Online privacy group TRUSTe, which certifies marketers' adherence to Web privacy practices, last month went public with a similar initiative of its own. The San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit said it had begun working with AT&T Wireless to create a wireless version of its "trustmark" certificate and to enlist other carriers and mobile marketers to the cause.

The MMA said that it had consulted with TRUSTe to develop its guidelines, and had also enlisted the support of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, the major wireless industry association.

The move continues a renewed push by marketers to hammer out privacy standards and safeguards, in the face of increasing consumer and regulatory attention. Last month, the Direct Marketing Association announced guidelines governing its members' e-mail and database marketing practices. In January, TRUSTe and consultancy ePrivacy Group announced a program with DoubleClick and other e-mail marketing players to create a seal governing online direct marketing.

Those efforts come as the U.S. Congress is mulling over several bills designed to curb spam, while the Federal Trade Commission has renewed its efforts to crack down on unsolicited mail and bogus online offers, and has requested a $21 million increase in funding in part to increase its focus on enforcing businesses' privacy-related promises.