IAB Board Formally Adopts Behavioral Targeting Guidelines

The board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau has adopted new guidelines for behavioral targeting, or serving ads based on users' Web-surfing history, that have more flexible privacy safeguards than those proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, Mike Zaneis, vice-president for public policy, said Monday.

The IAB's standards, slated for release later this week, take a case-by-case approach to when companies should notify consumers that they are being tracked online and give them the chance to opt-out, Zaneis told OnlineMediaDaily.

The FTC "didn't quite get the nuances right in notice and choice," Zaneis said. "They assume choice should always be given."

Zaneis added that the IAB's next step will be to categorize the different circumstances in which companies track consumers and devise standards based on those categories. The board approved the new standards Monday, Zaneis announced at the OMMA Behavioral conference.

Privacy advocates are unlikely to embrace the IAB's new proposals.

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"The IAB's guidelines are going to have to be sent back to the industry's creatives for a rewrite," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The industry is trying to draw a line in the silicon sand to resist the calls for meaningful privacy protection."

The Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group helped spark an industry-wide debate about online privacy in November 2006, when they filed a 50-page complaint charging the behavioral targeting techniques are invasive and manipulative.

Late last year, shortly after a two-day town hall meeting about online ad techniques and privacy, the FTC proposed a set of voluntary standards for behavioral targeting. Those guidelines suggested that any sites that collect data for the purpose of tracking online activity and targeting ads should notify consumers about the practice and give them the ability to opt-out. The FTC also proposed that companies that significantly change their privacy policies notify consumers and obtain affirmative consent to the new terms.

The FTC's suggested guidelines, announced the same day the agency approved Google's merger with DoubleClick, were less stringent than some advocates had wanted. A coalition of nine groups including the World Privacy Forum and the Center for Democracy & Technology last year proposed that the FTC create a do-not-track registry, similar to the do-not-call list, for consumers to opt-out of all attempts to track them online and serve them ads based on the Web sites they visited.

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