Friday, February 13, 2009

Is Industry Self-Reg of Online Ad Targeting Enough?

Yesterday the FTC announced it's sticking with industry self-regulation of behavioral targeting for online advertising. Translation: Companies like Google can continue to track consumers' Internet activities and collect data so they can serve up targeted advertising based on the sites and pages consumers visit.

Yes, the FTC wants marketers to obtain "affirmative express consent" in some situations--meaning they have to get consumers to specifically say "yes" to certain uses of their data. It also wants companies to have easy opt-out options for consumers to say "no."

Four industry groups (American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau) are working on industry guidelines. Of course, self-regulation is voluntary, with no consequences for non-compliance (other than public exposure).

Here are several articles about the FTC's announcement: NetworkWorld, Ars Technica, ClickZ.

Trouble is, consumers don't really understand what web site privacy policies are saying: Exactly what's being collected? How will the data be used? How easy is it to opt out? And people are understandably nervous about use and misuse of personal data. If given the opportunity to do a blanket opt-out of all behavioral tracking, I suspect most consumers would do it in a heartbeat. It's up to the companies to make a strong case for the benefits of behavioral targeting.

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