Tech Advertising Group Urges More Online Political Ad Disclosure

(Bloomberg) -- An advertising industry group representing the largest technology companies in the U.S. is urging marketers to disclose more information about who’s paying for online political ads.

The Digital Advertising Alliance on Tuesday released a set of principles for its members to adhere to, including displaying a special icon to identify a political ad, along with links to the political advertiser’s name, contact information and a government database with contribution or expenditure records.

While the guidance doesn’t have the force of law behind it, the alliance said it would encourage compliance through the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Data & Marketing Association, who may publicly shame uncooperative advertisers or report any applicable offenses to the relevant regulators.

The principles are designed “to make sure that consumers understand who is bringing an ad to them,” Lou Mastria, the executive director of the Digital Advertising Alliance, which includes Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google as its members, said in an interview. “One of the things we work on is trying to create trust in the digital advertising platforms themselves.”

The release of the principles comes as companies and Washington policy makers debate the transparency of ads that promote the support or defeat of a particular candidate in a federal or statewide election. Facebook announced last year that it was starting an archive of political ads on its platform. The company recently reconsidered its plan to include news organizations’ promotion of their own political news articles alongside campaign information in the archive after it faced criticism from publishers last week.

AdChoices Campaign

The Digital Advertising Alliance is the same group behind the YourAdChoices campaign, which encourages companies to disclose when advertising information is being collected from online browsing and gives consumers the right to opt out. At least one industry-produced study in 2016 found that only 42 percent of consumers knew about the icon but awareness was growing. The alliance’s own internal research suggests more than three in five respondents recognized the AdChoices icon.

Separately, Senators Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, have introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would subject online political ads to similar disclosure rules that now govern advertising content in other media such as TV and radio.

And the Federal Election Commission is also considering new regulations that would require disclaimers identifying the sponsors of online, mobile and other forms of digital advertising, offering alternative rules.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.