When Ed Kabak, chief legal officer at the Promotion Marketing Association, opens the second morning of the trade associations annual law conference, he likes to begin with a poem. This years gathering, Converging Platforms & Diverging Laws, held mid-November in Chicago was no exception. To wit, a few lines:
The FTC and California AG
Suggested improving mobile apps privacy
And applied a thoughtful balanced piston
To implement a Do Not Track system
Indeed, privacy was a major theme at a conference earlier this month that drew more than 600 attendees and 100-plus speakers including Facebook Inc. associate general counsel Susan Cooper, commissioners Maureen Ohlhausen and Julie Brill from the Federal Trade Commission, and 35 legal reps from brands such as Twitter and Coca-Cola. You have a growing body of things to pay attention to: a tremendous evolution in the law, as well as a tremendous amount of cases and regulatory materials, says Kabak, who joined PMA in 2001, and has been in charge of the conference ever since. Its a very dynamic period.
CorpCounsel.com spoke with Kabak on his time at PMA, the post-conference re-cap, and how Hurricane Sandy affected preparations for the big meeting. An edited version of that conversation follows:
CorpCounsel.com: In the decade youve been with PMA, what are the major legal and regulatory changes youve observed that affect marketers and brands?
Ed Kabak: The last ten years, there have not been a lot of changes in federal sweepstakes laws. But theres been a lot of change in the privacy area, certainly with the CAN-SPAM Act, telemarketing regulations, the FTCs recent privacy by design framework, and the self-regulatory aspects of online behavioral advertising.
Social media law has also changed significantly, because there you see social media morphing into areas that deal with all kinds of other intellectual property disciplines. And on mobile devices with small screens you have very limited real estate to make privacy and advertising disclosures to consumers. Our conference is really almost a mini-conference on privacy.
CC: By the same token, how has the conference grown over the years?
EK: It was a conference at one point where it was essentially several speakers only from outside law firms. I tried to do something different which was a conference that addressed not only the more narrow issues of incentive marketing, but advertising, IP, and other issues on a much broader, and much deeper, spectrum. What people come to the conference for is primarily content. Attendance has almost doubled and we have three to four times the number of speakers as we used to.
CC: What are some of the emerging privacy issues people were discussing?
EK: Lets take COPPA [Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act] -- which already deals with sensitive information like financial and medical information. How much do you extend that law to deal with things like geo-location? Or the FTCs privacy-by-design framework, which is going to be important for companies to engage in. How much does that cut off these problems in advance, if companies design their privacy programs to have transparent and easy choices available to consumers, as opposed to being reactive to issues that may arise?
Another one is how much is self-regulation involved in online behavioral advertising. And global privacy how do you deal with different privacy laws all over the world, particularly places like Europe, where you have the right to be forgotten? These are all significant emerging issues.
CC: Did you learn anything new from this years conference?
EK: We had some new sessions this year that we devised. We had two Facebook speakers, one of whom, Allison Hendrix, was talking directly about how Facebooks policies and procedures and platforms work. We had another session on mobile applications, where we had an outside counsel, Jamie Rubin, together with a speaker from Microsoft and another app developer, explain how you develop apps from a business and legal standpoint. One of the keynote speakers, was Scott Monty, head of global social media at Ford, who explained how the company launched a new Explorer through a campaign on Facebook. Those areas were fascinating.
CC: Hurricane Sandy hit right before the conference. Did that affect your preparations?
EK: Our offices are in Manhattan on First Avenue and 37th Street. We had no power for a week, and then no Internet for another week. Right before the law conference, that was really disruptive. But it was a very good-spirited group, and they worked at home. I had access to an office in the MetLife building for a week, too. We got through it pretty well, actually it was a good bonding period, and a great team effort.