BT Self-Regulatory Group Exec Gives Notice
The Network Advertising Initiative has not yet named a successor for Hughes, who became the group's first executive director in 2001. In one of the last initiatives under Hughes' watch, the organization intends to release updated privacy principles next month, marking the first overhaul since the NAI formed eight years ago.
Hughes also is departing the Email Sender and Provider Coalition, where he was executive director. He said he intends to work full-time at another group, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), where he also serves as executive director.
"It was becoming more and more challenging to provide the level of leadership necessary for all three organizations," Hughes said. "The IAPP is really a great success story and I'm delighted to focus my efforts there," he said. He added that IAPP--which boasts board members from major corporations like Procter & Gamble and Walt Disney--has grown to include nearly 6,000 corporate and individual members in 34 countries since its launch in 2000.
Hughes' exit from the Network Advertising Initiative comes at the end of an intense time of scrutiny in Washington about online advertising and privacy. Lawmakers this year held at least three hearings about whether some online ad techniques violate Web users' privacy. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating whether behavioral targeting--or tracking users as they surf the Web and then serving them targeted ads--compromises users' privacy.
Behavioral targeting companies argue that any profiles they create by monitoring Web activity are anonymous because they are not collecting people's names, addresses or other similar information. But digital rights advocates challenge the premise that these profiles are really anonymous, arguing that it's possible to figure out users' identities if the profiles have sufficient detail.
Currently, many of the largest behavioral targeting companies follow the Network Advertising Initiative's current principles, which typically require them to notify users about tracking and allow people to opt out.
Last year, some groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology and World Privacy Forum argued that those principles were not sufficient to protect Web users and urged the FTC to create a do-not-track registry, where people would be able to opt out of all online tracking by behavioral targeting companies.
Other privacy advocates like the Center for Digital Democracy have gone even further, advocating that companies should obtain consumers' express consent before tracking them.
The Network Advertising Initiative formed in 2000 to address privacy concerns about the then-nascent field of behavioral targeting. At the time, DoubleClick, which was primarily an ad network, had recently announced that it would acquire offline market research company Abacus Direct. DoubleClick originally said it intended to merge its online information about people's Web activity with Abacus's catalog database, but eventually retreated from that plan. DoubleClick, now owned by Google, sold Abacus two years ago.