“Tag, You’re It”: IAB’s Best Practices on Data Tags for Websites

Published On December 10, 2012 | By Ken Dreifach | General, Privacy

Much attention has been paid lately to online “data leakage,” including leakage from social media sites leading to lawsuits and FTC actions.   For privacy and proprietary reasons, web and mobile publishers have begun to pay close attention to how data leaves their sites and platforms, particularly through ad tags and pixels that transmit user data to online data platforms and exchanges.  Services like Krux and Evidon have in turn emerged to help publishers understand and manage their traffic and data flows.  And as the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) points out, “leading web publishers . . . are beginning to reassert control of their data assets.”

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has just contributed substantially to this effort by publishing “Site Tagging Best Practices,” which provides web publishers and others guidance in managing site tags,  monitoring data flows, and preventing data leakage.  Given the increasing value of data — and the multiple and evolving uses of online data — it has become crucial for web publishers proactively to monitor and control data leaving their platforms through site “tags” (also called “pixel tags” or “ad tags”).

These “tags” are essentially lines of JavaScript or HTML code that call and refer content and ads to and from web servers and exchanges.  They may dictate, for instance, what ads show up on websites, and what behavioral data is collected and aggregated by data exchanges.

But not all tags are created equal:  tags in some cases transfer valuable data, and even affect website performance, so it is important that publishers and their counsel understand what opportunities are being created or lost in the data flowing within these tags.  As IAB notes, “when a tag is placed directly onto a webpage, it has full access to the contents of that page and can . . . collect a wide variety of data.”

In its proposed “Best Practices” (in draft form until January 4, 2013), the IAB sets out in detail some key points for publishers using site tags.  Among them:

  • Focus on and understand the “opportunity costs”  that result from “data leakage”  — negotiate with those costs and potential value in mind.
  • Draft contracts carefully — and when needed, use data contract riders “to explicitly describe data collection and usage.”
  • Likewise, include provisions that anticipate (or restrict) future use cases, and establish “clear, practical audit rights” as well as “equitable relief for unauthorized data reuse.”
  • Be aware of how tags on your site “will be seen under the relevant regulatory and self-regulatory procedures,” and understand precisely “what data will be collected” and “how collected data will be used.”
  • Design contracts and riders to anticipate potential future use cases — for instance (among other protections) establish “clear, practical audit rights” and “equitable relief for unauthorized data reuse.”
  • “If you’re a publisher, make sure that your audience development team is aligned with your sales/business development team regarding data collection practices.”
  • Before implementing new tags, perform precise testing for lag and latency:  “always QA the site to ensure that the right tags are firing on the right pages;  the right tags are transferring and collecting data properly.”

The report also contains a helpful glossary of marketplace terms to help stakeholders better understand and navigate the online data and tagging ecosystem.

Until January 4, 2013, the IAB is accepting comments from the public.  Instructions on providing comments are here.

About The Author

Ken counsels clients on complex issues involving information privacy and data law, online liability, consumer regulatory and gaming law, including regulatory response, and adherence to self-regulatory guidelines for online advertising. Ken has had more than twenty years of experience in high-profile regulatory, in-house and private practice roles, including as Chief of the New York Attorney General’s Internet Bureau. He is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the relationship between emerging advertising technologies and online privacy.

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