The ad industry's self-regulatory group Digital Advertising Alliance now supports the idea that consumers should be able to opt out of all online behavioral advertising through a browser-based do-not-track header, the group's lawyer, Stuart Ingis, said on Wednesday.
"The DAA will immediately begin work to add browser-based header signals to the set of tools by which consumers can express their preferences," Ingis told reporters during a conference call.
The Federal Trade Commission has called for a universal do-not-track mechanism that's simple and universal. Mozilla recently introduced a do-not-track header that consumers can activate, but only a handful of ad networks had agreed to honor it.
In the future, however, companies that adhere to self-regulatory standards will be required to honor browser-based headers, Ingis says. "It isn't an option," he says. "It will be a requirement."
The DAA already requires companies to notify users about behavioral targeting via an icon, and to allow consumers to opt out of online behavioral advertising via cookies. Ingis says that any company that licenses the icon from the DAA will also be required to respect users' browser-based settings.
FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz praised the DAA's announcement. "People care enormously about privacy," he said. "We have always called for a do-not-track option that's persistent, that's universal, that's easy to use," he said.
Leibowitz adds that companies that break privacy promises to consumers are subject to enforcement actions.
Browser-based tools differ significantly from the cookie-based opt-outs that the industry has long supported. One drawback of cookie-based opt-outs is that they're unstable, because privacy-conscious consumers who delete their cookies end up purging the cookie that communicates that they don't wish to be tracked. In addition, cookie-based mechanisms sometimes have glitches, like broken opt-out links.
Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the think tank Future of Privacy Forum, agreed that a browser-based do-not-track header will give users a simple way to opt out of behavioral targeting. "It's far more effective than cookies, because it doesn't get deleted when cookies get deleted.
In another privacy-related development, the Obama Administration is supporting a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" that incorporates the idea that users should be able to control what kinds of data companies collect.