US trade bodies adopt badge scheme
It’s almost an everyday occurence now for consumers visiting web sites to have ads displayed that are selected based on their previous online habits, including data from websites and services they have visited.
Behavioural targeting of advertising works on the principle that when you click on any displayed ad you are expressing an interest in the target content. That interest is recorded either locally by a cookie entry or by the adserver so that similar content can be pushed to you when next visiting ad supported sites.
Lack of transparency has prompted action
Targeted advertising supports the provision of free content and may result in more relevant information being provided to consumers but it is the lack of transparency about these practices that has led to consumer and government concern.
During February 2009, the US Federal Trade Commission issued a report containing self-regulatory principles for online behavioural advertising, including transparency and consumer interaction and control.
The Future of Privacy Forum launched, in May 2009, a research initiative to examine new methods for communicating with users about online advertising, disclosure and privacy.
While there is nothing wrong or immoral in respect to behavioural targeting and advertising it has been the secrecy, lack of transparency and minimal information provided to site visitors regarding the practice that has been the bone of contention.
Badge scheme gives consumers choice
The main outcome of the study has been that US trade bodies have bitten the bullet and proposed a voluntary badging scheme giving site visitors additional information and an option to opt-out of any follow-up once an ad is clicked.
Hovering over the icon above the ad provides the viewer with additional information and an opt-out option.
European Union urged to follow suit
The UK and EU have been prompted to follow suit as quickly as possible to reduce the possibility of more draconian measures being imposed by Brussels dictat.
That would inevitably be harmful for the publishing and advertising industries with a potentially harmful outcome for consumers as a knee-jerk reaction that disrupts the advertising ecosystem might push more sites to charge for their content.