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IAB retracts 48-hour retargeting cookie advice

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Online advertising trade body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has withdrawn a code of practice which recommended that behavioural advertising retargeting cookies should expire after 48 hours.

The IAB's Affiliate Marketing Council (AMC) published the code last week. It applied to the practice of 'retargeting' web users who had visited a site with ads for that site on other people's websites, using cookies to track their movements and activities.

The code of practice included some measures that were compulsory for IAB members involved in the practice, and some that were advisory.

That code has been withdrawn and will be reworked after further industry consultation, though, the IAB said. The code has disappeared from the IAB's website.

"Following extensive feedback from IAB members, the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council (AMC) has withdrawn its Code for the time being to ensure the initiative fully represents the needs and wants of the market, and that the language used is satisfactory to all corners of the industry," said IAB head of regulatory affairs Nick Stringer.

"The story relating to the Code's initial launch has now been removed from www.iabuk.net and is no longer available. Following further consultation with all the relevant organisations and industry bodies, an updated version will be launched in the coming months," he said.

Behavioural advertising is an increasingly common phenomenon. It displays different adverts to different people based on their web browsing history, as tracked by cookie files.

Retargeting sends people adverts related to sites or products they have previously visited and seeks to take advantage of the idea that a web user is more likely to buy something they have previously looked than something they have not.

Behavioural advertising has raised privacy concerns, though, as companies and advertising networks engage in increased monitoring of users' web activity.

Privacy regulator the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said in July that there was nothing "intrinsically unfair" about behavioural advertising, but that users should be offered the chance to avoid being tracked.

Consumer protection watchdog the Office of Fair Trading reported on its own investigation into behavioural advertising earlier this year and said that it would permit the industry to continue to self-regulate, but that it would create its own regulation if IAB rules on privacy were not extended and acted on.

The behavioural retargeting code contained compulsory rules to determine which cookies should trigger a payment if a user acts on an ad and makes a purchase. It also dealt with privacy concerns.

"[Behavioural retargeting] cookie lengths are usually shorter than click cookie windows, for example 24 or 48 hours. This should be a key consideration," it said.

It also advised companies using the cookies to tell web users that retargeting was taking place. "The advertiser/merchant will be encouraged to highlight the programmes where [retargeting] is in place, offering extra transparency for affiliates/publishers," it said.

The IAB's Stringer said that the organisation was already seeking to 'adapt' the code.

"Online is a diverse and complex medium which boasts a number of different business models, and it is the responsibility of the IAB to adapt its policies, when relevant, as the market evolves," he said.

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