Don't like targeted ads? Opt out, says online ad group

The Interactive Advertising Bureau releases new privacy guidelines that would allow Web sites and marketers to offer behavioral and targeted ads based on consumer data unless the consumer opts out.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

Update 3:45 pm PT with comment from EPIC.

PHOENIX--The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has proposed new privacy guidelines related to online advertising that offer weaker consumer notice and choice requirements than the U.S. Federal Trade Commission wants.

Interactive Advertising Bureau
The guidelines were released ahead of Ecosystem 2.0, the IAB's annual meeting here, which starts Sunday night. They will be submitted to the FTC before March 1, the IAB said. (CNET News.com is a member of the organization.)

It's likely that the FTC won't be thrilled with the IAB proposals, though.

In proposed privacy principles unveiled in December, the FTC said Web sites should provide a "clear, consumer-friendly, and prominent statement" that data is being collected for targeted ads. Consumers also should be given the ability to choose whether to have their information collected for targeted advertising, and companies should collect sensitive data for behavioral advertising only if the consumer expressly consents to receiving such ads, the FTC said.

Meanwhile, the IAB guidelines would make it less obvious for consumers that their data is being collected for advertising, with a notice buried somewhere on the Web site where the privacy practices are kept. Also, the IAB favors directing consumers to other places where they can opt out if they don't want their information gathered or used for advertising.

The IAB asks that companies provide consumers with "meaningful notice" in a "consumer-friendly manner" about data collection, using "easily accessible links" to privacy policies, and other voluntary steps to educate the consumer.

Companies collecting or using consumer information for online advertising should provide choice, "where appropriate," to the consumer, as well as provide consumers "relevant education regarding cross-industry opportunities to opt out of the collection or use of" consumer data, the IAB guidelines recommend.

Companies also should use "appropriate" security procedures and practices and should respond "appropriately" to consumer complaints, as well as educate consumers on the benefits of interactive advertising.

In explaining the differences between the FTC wishes and the IAB guidelines, Randall Rothenberg, IAB president and chief executive, said the organization wanted to offer flexibility to site publishers and marketers, who he is sure will do the appropriate thing or risk losing business.

"IAB members understand the relationship between consumers and companies is built on trust. As a result, IAB members have long been committed to guarding consumers' information and privacy," Rothenberg said in a statement. "Based on the industry's experience, we believe the FTC is too rigid on the matters of notice and choice. Our principles strike the appropriate balance between protecting consumers' security and allowing industry to provide the free services and content they desire."

Privacy advocate weren't pleased with the IAB guidelines.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said the IAB should prohibit data collection without full disclosure and prior consent of the consumer.

"These new principles won't provide any real protections for consumers," Chester wrote in an e-mail. "The failure of the IAB to acknowledge key issues related to sensitive data (something the FTC does in its proposed principle set)--including children, teens, financial (mortgage-related) and health--is another example of how the online ad trade group is failing to do what is required to protect consumer privacy."

"The IAB Privacy Guidelines are Exhibit A in the case against the FTC's self-regulatory approach to online privacy. There may be a weaker set of privacy guidelines out there somewhere, but I haven't seen them," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "The FTC didn't just put the foxes in charge of the hen house, the Commission offered up the blueprints."