A coalition of advertising trade groups launched a new online behavioral advertising (“OBA”) opt-out program on October 4, 2010, to build on the self-regulatory principles they released last summer. The program, which is explained on the group’s website, features an “Advertising Option Icon” that can be placed near online ads that collect data used to conduct behavioral advertising. Users who click on the icon will receive a disclosure statement about the data collection and use practices associated with the ad along with the ability to opt-out of being tracked.
The Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising the new icon enhances were released in July 2009 by the online advertising industry to correspond with the guidelines for behavioral advertising issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in February 2009. The seven self-regulatory principles—education, transparency, consumer control, data security, consent before material changes, limiting collection of sensitive data, and accountability—were designed to address growing consumer concern about the collection and use of personal information. According to Network Advertising Initiative spokesperson, Andrew Weinstein, the new icon is designed to provide “consistency to the visual icon, messaging and opt-out process across all of the participants in the online advertising industry.”
OBA and social networks are not easy to regulate, but the self-regulatory approach to this industry has come under fire by privacy advocates who argue that the approach fails to offer consumers meaningful, informed choices and that the new opt-out program is a last-ditch effort to avoid new federal legislation. Although the head of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck, has recently expressed his disappointment in the industry’s self-regulatory efforts, he stated that he will continue to support self-regulation. Mr. Vladeck also stated that the FTC is reviewing the viability of a “do-not-track” mechanism following the announcement by Senate Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., that he is working on such legislation. The “do-not-track” mechanism would function like the national Do Not Call Registry by allowing consumers to opt-out of having their browsing activities tracked.