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Yahoo adds privacy tool, in time for FTC meetings

"Ad Interest Manager" lets consumers see how much is known about their surfing habits, computers, and personal data. It also offers an opt-out for "interest-based" ads.

Yahoo announced on Monday a new consumer tool called "Ad Interest Manager."

BoomTown is going to ignore the could-it-be-duller name for the feature, which--Yahoo said in a press release you can see below--gives users a "central place where Yahoo visitors can see a concise summary of their online activity and make easy, constructive choices about their exposure to interest-based advertising served from the Yahoo Ad Network."

What fortuitous timing, since the first of three of the Federal Trade Commission's "Exploring Privacy: A Roundtable Series" begins Monday in Washington, D.C.

And, of course, the bigger backdrop is the pending regulatory approval of the massive search and advertising partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft. The two companies announced Friday that they had completed the definitive agreement for the deal.


One of the key issues for regulators, of course, is the privacy implications of combining the search and online ad technologies of the No. 2 and No. 3 players.

The FTC's day-long agenda (PDF) is chock-full of academics and privacy group folks, but there is an Microsoft lawyer on a panel. (The next roundtable takes place at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law on January 28.)

Said the FTC on its site:

The Federal Trade Commission will host a series of day-long public roundtable discussions to explore the privacy challenges posed by the vast array of 21st century technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data. Such practices include social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications, and other diverse businesses. The goal of the roundtables is to determine how best to protect consumer privacy while supporting beneficial uses of the information and technological innovation.

There will surely be lots to discuss, since privacy groups are wary of self-regulation by the very companies that link consumer data to advertising.

And, they have a point.

Visiting my Ad Interest Manager page is kind of freaky, to be honest. It shows I am interested in entertainment, technology and travel, checking in most on the finance and television pages. Correctomundo!

Also, it has detailed data about my computer, including its color depth, as well as my age and gender.

If I want, it is pretty easy to opt-out of the whole "interest-based" ad completely or by category, with on-off switches, which is a good thing.

If you want to know more, here is the Yahoo press release:



Today Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) released a beta version of a new consumer tool called Ad Interest Manager, which takes transparency in online advertising to a new level for building user trust. Ad Interest Manager is a central place where Yahoo! visitors can see a concise summary of their online activity and make easy, constructive choices about their exposure to interest-based advertising served from the Yahoo! Ad Network.

"Ads tailored to users' interests make online experiences more compelling and user-focused, and the new tool Yahoo! is launching today will provide transparency into how Yahoo!'s interest-based advertising works," said Yahoo! Vice President of Policy and Head of Privacy, Anne Toth. "Yahoo! is committed to providing consumers with increased transparency and control when they are online. Ad Interest Manager will show users what interests we think they have, and also let them edit and change those interests to reflect the most up-to-date information." Anne Toth also pointed out: "Importantly, users who don't want interest-based ads can turn them off completely."

Yahoo!'s new Ad Interest Manager tool:

• Provides a central point where Yahoo! visitors can assert even greater control over their online experience.

• Gives visitors an unparalleled view into the information used to deliver interest-based advertising.

• Shows the visitor both Yahoo!'s educated guesses about their interests and a summary of observations, along with other information they have provided.

• Provides a list of specific interest categories that Yahoo! has placed a user into and lets people turn those categories off.

• Allows people who don't want to see interest-based ads to turn them off entirely.

"Yahoo! has long provided its users with products and services for free, thanks to a business model based almost entirely on advertising, and we've found that consumers are more likely to click on advertising that speaks directly to them and their interests," said Yahoo!Vice President and General Manager of Display Advertising, David Zinman. "With the introduction of Ad Interest Manager, users can not only get a better understanding of how the process works, but they can also communicate better with Yahoo! and our advertisers about what most interests them."

Yahoo!'s Ad Interest Manager is currently available in beta in the U.S. and will soon be made available to UK and European users. Planned future enhancements to the Ad Interest Manager will also let users add categories of interest that Yahoo! may have missed.

To see what the new Ad Interest Manager looks like and how it works, please visit

Yahoo! was one of the first companies to implement a layered privacy center more than eight years ago, which provides people with a central place to understand and control their privacy online, as well as their options when it comes to the use of personal data. This information is coupled with our industry-leading data-retention policy, which anonymizes most Web log data within 90 days. The policy also strives to ensure that Yahoo! retains data only long enough to serve the business and create the highest-quality user experiences, while simultaneously maintaining the ability to fight fraud, secure systems, and meet legal obligations.

And here is the consumer privacy groups' press release on the FTC hearings:

Consumer and Privacy Groups at FTC Roundtable to Call for Decisive Agency Action

Washington, DC, December 6, 2009-On Monday December 7, 2009, consumer representatives and privacy experts speaking at the first of three Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Exploring Privacy Roundtable Series will call on the agency to adopt new policies to protect consumer privacy in today's digitized world. Consumer and privacy groups, as well as academics and policymakers, have increasingly looked to the FTC to ensure that Americans have control over how their information is collected and used.

The groups have asked the Commission to issue a comprehensive set of Fair Information Principles for the digital era, and to abandon its previous notice and choice model, which is not effective for consumer privacy protection.

Specifically, at the Roundtable on Monday, consumer panelists and privacy experts will call on the FTC to stop relying on industry privacy self-regulation, because of its long history of failure. Last September, a number of consumer groups provided Congressional leaders and the FTC a detailed blueprint of pro-active measures designed to protect privacy, available at:

These measures include giving individuals the right to see, have a copy of, and delete any information about them; ensuring that the use of consumer data for any credit, employment, insurance, or governmental purpose or for redlining is prohibited; and ensuring that websites should only initially collect and use data from consumers for a 24-hour period, with the exception of information categorized as sensitive, which should not be collected at all. The groups have also requested that the FTC establish a Do Not Track registry.

Quotes from Monday's panelists:

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC: "There is an urgent need for the Federal Trade Commission to address the growing threat to consumer privacy. The Commission must hold accountable those companies that collect and use personal information. Self-regulation has clearly failed."

Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy: "Consumers increasingly confront a sophisticated and pervasive data collection apparatus that can profile, track and target them online. The Obama FTC must quickly act to protect the privacy of Americans,including information related to their finances, health, and ethnicity."

Susan Grant, Consumer Federation of America: "It's time to recognize privacy as a fundamental human right and create a public policy framework that requires that right to be respected. Rather than stifling innovation, this will spur innovative ways to make the marketplace work better for consumers and businesses."

Pam Dixon, World Privacy Forum: "Self-regulation of commercial data brokers has been utterly ineffective to protect consumers. It's not just bad actors who sell personal information ranging from mental health information, medical status, income, religious and ethnic status, and the like. The sale of personal information is a routine business model for many in corporate America, and neither consumers nor policymakers are aware of the amount of trafficking in personal information. It's time to tame the wild west with laws that incorporate the principles of the Fair Credit Reporting Act to ensure transparency, accountability, and consumer control."