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Opting out of behavioural ads to get easier for US users

US trade bodies to set a single point where users can opt out

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US web users will soon be able to opt out of behavioural advertising operated by members of the main advertising and marketing trade bodies. The groups have agreed to set up a single point at which users can opt out of the tracking behind the ads.

Advertising trade bodies came together last year to create a body of self-regulatory principles to guide companies in their use of behavioural tracking technology. The group has now pledged to create a single point at which users can opt out of the systems later this year.

The group has also said that it will encourage its member companies to display a standard icon when behavioural tracking has been used. That icon should indicate that advertisers abide by the group's principles and should link to a statement about the behavioural targeting being used.

Behavioural advertising chooses what adverts to show a web user based on the sites they have visited, as recorded in their browser by cookies. Its increasingly common use has raised fears about potential violations of web users' privacy.

"The Advertising Option Icon indicates a company's use of online behavioral advertising and adherence to the Principles guiding the program," said the group. "By clicking on it, consumers will be able to link to a clear disclosure statement regarding the company's online behavioral advertising data collection and use practices as well as an easy-to-use opt-out option."

The group includes the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), the American Advertising Federation (AAF), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) will, from next year, monitor the organisations' members' compliance with the principles and deal with consumer complaints, the statement said.

"The CBBB and DMA expect to contract with the Better Advertising Project (BAP) to provide its monitoring technology to report on companies' adherence to the transparency and control provisions of the program," it said.

"The advertising industry has a long history of strong, effective CBBB-administered self-regulation of traditional media, and we look forward to applying these lessons to the dynamic new online advertising market," said Lee Peeler, executive vice president of the CBBB's National Advertising Self-Regulation section. "We also look forward to putting in place technology to monitor the marketplace and promote compliance with the program's transparency and control principles."

We are committed to helping consumers understand that they have choices and exercise those choices regarding interest-based advertising, and will work diligently to foster compliance and accountability across the industry," said DMA chief executive Larry Kimmel.

"The launch of an industry-wide icon will enhance the efforts of the growing number of companies that are already using similar mechanisms to deliver enhanced notice to millions of consumers," said a statement from the group, whose members represent 5,000 companies.

Behavioural advertising has raised privacy concerns, and the UK's data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and consumer protection body the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have both conducted investigations into the implications of its use.

The ICO said in July that there was nothing "intrinsically unfair" about the use of behavioural ads as long as web users could opt out of being tracked.

The OFT said that IAB rules on privacy must be acted on and extended otherwise it would engage in regulation of the activity.

The IAB in the UK published guidance two weeks ago on the use of cookies to target web users who had visited a website but left without purchasing anything with ads for that websites. It withdrew the guidance, which said that those cookies should only last 48 hours, last week.

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