The FTC Takes Close Look at Native Advertising, Additional Guidance Likely

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a full day workshop to examine the blending of advertisements with news, entertainment, and other editorial content in digital media, referred to as “native advertising” or “sponsored content.” The workshop brought together publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and self-regulatory organizations to explore the ways in which sponsored content is presented to consumers online and in mobile apps; consumers’ recognition and understanding of it; the contexts in which it should be identifiable as advertising; and effective ways of differentiating it from editorial content.

The title of the workshop was “Blurred Lines,” so before the discussions got underway it was clear that the Commission is concerned about the ability of users to distinguish editorial content from sponsored content.  FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez provided introductory remarks defining the scope of the discussion.

Ramirez described native advertising and sponsored content as imitating the form and style of the media it is in, or providing ads that resemble digital editorial content.  She also noted that while this approach helps provide more relevant messages, and sometimes allows advertisers to capitalize on the reputation of publishers, but that it also runs the risk of being deceptive and misleading, noting that the content could give the false impression that it comes from a non-biased source. Further, she identified the key focus of the workshop to explore whether industry self regulation and best practices are working, to ensure that users are able to distinguish between paid and editorial content, and the retransmition and aggregation of native advertising and the various ways this is done.

Native Advertising in the 21st Century

Native advertising isn’t exactly a new concept.  Rather, the history of the “advertorial” goes back 100 years, with the FTC’s first settlement coming in 1917.  As the FTC staff attorney noted early in the session, “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce are hereby declared unlawful!” So while this is not a new concept, the 21st Century application has federal regulators seeking to ensure that notices distinguishing between editorial content and paid content keep pace with the rapid innovation of digital media and publishing. 

The workshop drew heavily on the practices and expertise of cutting-edge digital content and advertising companies such as Mashable, BuzzFeed, Adiant, Outbrain and Huffington Post, as well more traditional media companies that have embraced native advertising such as Hearst and the Wall Street Journal.

What was particularly striking in the workshop’s discussions among industry leaders—even to a consumer who reads massive amounts of digital media from diverse sources and has represented the digital content industry since the early days of the Internet—was the rapid evolution of sponsored content, and how increasingly active marketers and advertisers have become in the generation of rich media content.
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Public Sector Innovation Roundup

Is momentum building for IT acquisition reform?
With the Senate poised to return to work next week on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 and the President declaring that as a result of the Healthcare.gov deployment issues, IT acquisition reform needs to be a priority, there seems to be some momentum for Rep. Issa’s Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), but what’s the path forward? FITARA was included in the House-passed NDAA but there still seems to be some opposition in the Senate. Expect an amendment to add to the full text of FITARA, and one to add just the data center consolidation and/or CIO authority sections from the House passed bill. Which will be agreed to and which will be dismissed remains up in the air, as does the overall path forward for the NDAA as there are a number of issues that held it up before the Thanksgiving Holiday that have yet to be resolved. Here’s an earlier story from FedNewsRadio.

Congress looks for budget deal in advance of January 15th deadline:
With the January 15th deadline approaching and fear of another government shutdown on the minds of many in DC, Congress has been working to try and come up with a short term funding solution. On the table right now is whether or not Congress should fund operations for the rest of the fiscal year above the sequester level, with many believing that the cuts to some areas, including defense, are just too severe. No deal yet, but discussions between Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan are continuing. The latest news being that some conservatives in the House of Representatives are pushing for a clean continuing resolution at the current sequester levels. Politico has the latest here and here.

FedRAMP announces 27th accredited 3PAO:
The FedRAMP program announced this week that it had approved the 27th third party assessment organization or 3PAO. The newest 3PAO is Leidos Accredited Testing and Evaluation Labs (AT&E) and they are now available to work with cloud service providers who are ready to go through the FedRAMP process. To date, 12 CSPs have received authorization either through FedRAMP or via an agency to provide cloud services to the Federal government. See the full list of FedRAMP accredited 3PAOs and other information on the FedRAMP program here.

DOD issues new acquisition guidelines:
DOD Undersecretary of Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Frank Kendall released a memo this week updating DOD’s acquisition guidance, last revised in 2008. The updated guidance seeks to streamline the Pentagon’s buying processes, while issuing more readable and user friendly standards. DOD underlying acquisition guidance remains intact. The revised guidance is viewed as interim and will be formalized over the next six months. FCW covers it here.

DOD to undergo major realignment:
The Department of Defense is also embarking on a major realignment, expecting to cut nearly 20 percent of its workforce by 2019, resulting in about $1 billion in savings. Under the plan, which includes significant realigning of personnel and resources, the Office of the CIO would be strengthened to be better able to deal with emerging information technology and cyber security challenges. FCW has a good report.


Michael Hettinger is VP for the Public Sector Innovation Group (PSIG) at SIIA. Follow his PSIG tweets at @SIIAPSIG. Sign up for the Public Sector Innovation Roundup email newsletter for weekly updates.

Day of Action to Demand ECPA Reform

Today, SIIA is joining a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the law that says the government can access your email and documents in the cloud without a warrant.

ECPA is one of the Internet’s most outdated laws – it was enacted in 1986, before most people had access to a home computer or email. ECPA says that state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as hundreds of other government agencies—like the IRS, FBI, and DEA—can access many of our stored emails, private social media messages, and documents in the cloud without getting a warrant from a judge. The law flies directly in the face of our Fourth Amendment values and creates an un-level playing field for cloud computing providers; in fact, many companies have fought back and now demand warrants before turning over customers’ communications. Of course, small companies don’t usually have the legal resources to fight this battle, so they are further disadvantaged.

Bills to reform ECPA have gained huge bipartisan support in Congress in recent months. However, legislation is now being blocked by a proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is pushing for a special carve-out for regulatory agencies to get your documents from online providers without a warrant. The SEC carve-out would neuter ECPA reform.

That’s why we’re calling on the White House to break its silence and stand up for ECPA reform. Today we ask you join us by signing this petition to the White House. It’s time for the President to join tech companies, startups, advocates, and Members of Congress by supporting this commonsense, long overdue reform to ensure our privacy rights online.


David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPubPolicy.

SIIA Digital Policy Roundup: FTC looks at Native Advertising, Patent Reform to the House Floor, DOC Launches Privacy discussions around facial recognition and SIIA opposes postal rate increases

FTC Takes Close Look at “Native Advertising”
The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop on Wednesday to examine the blending of advertisements with news, entertainment, and other editorial content in digital media, referred to as “native advertising” or “sponsored content.” The workshop will bring together publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and self-regulatory organizations to explore: the ways in which sponsored content is presented to consumers online and in mobile apps; consumers’ recognition and understanding of it; the contexts in which it should be identifiable as advertising; and effective ways of differentiating it from editorial content. The workshop builds on previous Commission initiatives to help ensure that consumers can identify advertisements as advertising wherever they appear. This includes recent updates to the Search Engine Advertising guidance, the Dot Com Disclosures guidance, and the Endorsements and Testimonials Guides, as well as decades of law enforcement actions against infomercial producers and operators of fake news websites marketing products. Following the event, SIIA will provide a summary of the discussion for members to highlight what to expect in guidance from the FTC in 2014.

DOC Launches Talks on Facial Recognition Privacy
Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) announced a new privacy multistakeholder process on commercial use of facial recognition technology. The privacy multistakeholder process is an NTIA-led effort to implement part of the Obama Administration’s blueprint for improving consumers’ privacy protections in the information age and promoting the continued growth of the digital economy. SIIA issued a statement applauding the NTIA and offered strong agreement that the appropriate approach for data privacy protection is voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct that provide more flexibility for rapidly evolving technology than legislation or regulation can achieve. Read more on SIIA’s Digital Discourse Blog.

SIIA Opposes Postal Rate Increases
In comments filed last week, SIIA urged the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to reject the US Postal Service’s exigent rate increase request and explained why the postal rate increase is not justified. SIIA’s comments demonstrated the detrimental effect postal rate increases will have on companies, the mailing industry, and the American economy at large. To offset financial shortcoming of the USPS in part because of the recent great recession, the Commission is currently considering the proposed exigent rate increase of 4.3 percent and is expected to make a decision in late December. While it is not known what decision the PRC will reach, we remain hopeful that the Commission will recognize our points and act to either reject the exigent rate increase altogether or reduce it significantly, in turn reducing the burden on companies that rely on the mail to deliver magazines and other periodicals.

House to Take up Patent Reform
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Reps. is expected to take up patent litigation reform legislation, the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309). The vote will follow a meeting of the House Rules Cmte. to decide on the terms of the debate and amendments to be considered. In total, 26 amendments were submitted for consideration, including a Manager’s Amendment by Chairman Goodlatte. SIIA supports the legislation and has urged its immediate passage.


David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPubPolicy.

SIIA Welcomes European Commission Report on Commercial Privacy and Government Surveillance

SIIA welcomes the European Commission’s report about privacy and surveillance released today. The report is an important step for advancing the intergovernmental dialogue between Europe and the United States in both commercial privacy and government surveillance.

However, we are concerned about the suggestion that restrictions on data collection and use by commercial entities should be a part of a response to concerns about government surveillance. In particular, we think it a mistake to hold hostage the crucial Safe Habor framework for transatlantic data transfers pending a resolution of government surveillance issues. Modifications of this framework should stand or fall on their own merit and not be looked at as substitute response to concerns about government surveillance.


David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPubPolicy.

SIIA / ABM file comments with the Postal Regulatory Commission against exigent rate increases

In comments filed today, SIIA / ABM urged the Postal Regulatory Commission to reject the US Postal Service’s exigent rate increase request and explained why the postal rate increase is not justified. The SIIA / ABM comments effectively demonstrated the detrimental effect postal rate increases will have on SIIA/ABM members, the mailing industry, and the American economy at large.

From recent discussions with our members, it is clear that mailers will be forced to take actions to offset this exigent rate increase, to the detriment of the U.S. Postal Service. The mail volume loss that will be sustained as a result of rate increases is likely to significantly reduce the revenue gained from increased rates, particularly over the long haul and this lost volume is unlikely to

SIIA believes there are other measures that can be taken by USPS that would increase efficiency without the danger of reducing volume and revenue. From a report released on September 26, 2013 by the USPS Inspector General, it is clear that the USPS has not done enough to implement all possible cost

Additionally, there are positive economic and business signs indicating that postal revenues are improving. The proposed exigent increase will have an adverse impact on customers, mailers, businesses and the U.S. Postal Service. In short, SIIA/ABM believes that there will be no benefit from approval of this exigent rate filing and believe that more time is needed for the USPS to adjust before implementing a measure of this


Michael Hettinger is VP for the Public Sector Innovation Group (PSIG) at SIIA. Follow his PSIG tweets at @SIIAPSIG. Sign up for the Public Sector Innovation Roundup email newsletter for weekly updates.

Public Sector Innovation Roundup

Senate to consider Defense Authorization Bill:
The US Senate is expected to take up the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) this week. While it’s still up in the air how the bill will move forward, there is the possibility that there will be a number of federal IT acquisition related amendments. Senators Udall (D-NM) and Moran (R-KS) have filed an amendment to essentially add the CIO authority provisions of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) to the NDAA and Senator Bennet (D-CO) has one adding the data center efficiency and consolidation provisions. A broader amendment, incorporating the entire text of FITARA as passed by the House in their version of the NDAA may be offered by Senator Shaheen (D-NH). Given the number of amendments and the potential controversy around some it is expected that consideration may drag on past the Thanksgiving holiday so stay tuned. FCW has a report.

House Passes DATA Act:
As we reported last week, there’s some movement on the DATA Act, Rep. Issa’s legislation designed to improve the transparency of federal spending. Last week the Senate passed the bill out of committee and this week the House passed it on the floor by a vote of 388-1. The bill will now await full Senate action and then the two chambers will have to conference to work out the handful of differences between the two versions. FCW has been following the bill’sprogress.

OMB issues new continuous monitoring requirements, sets 2017 deadline:
On Monday, OMB issued an update to its 2012 continuous monitoring guidelines, giving agencies specific deadlines they must meet to comply with new IT security standards. The new guidelines require agencies to fully comply with what’s now being called information security continuous monitoring (ISCM) by 2017. ISCM is the new term for what was continuous diagnostics and mitigation (CDM) previously. According to the memo agencies are required to come up with a strategy for complying with ISCM by February 28th. FedNewsRadio has thescoop and you can see the full OMB memo here.

GSA looking to bring Microsoft under FSSI:
According to an exclusive article by FedNewsRadio, GSA has put out an RFQ asking Schedule 70 vendors who resell Microsoft products to bid on a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) for a host of Microsoft products and services including systems, applications, servers, and software. GSA plans to put the BPA into the Smartbuy Program. The goal is to reduce the overall cost of ownership of Microsoft products and services by reducing pricing, optimizing terms and conditions and improving license management. GSA expects multiple awards with 5 year contracts carrying a total potential value of $5.3 billion. Bids are due December 18th.


Michael Hettinger is VP for the Public Sector Innovation Group (PSIG) at SIIA. Follow his PSIG tweets at @SIIAPSIG. Sign up for the Public Sector Innovation Roundup email newsletter for weekly updates.