Archive for April, 2010

Opting-in with Search and Share

April 22, 2010

The PrivacyChoice project started nearly a year ago with this goal: Help make consumer privacy choices understandable and actionable.

To this end, we created tools for users and websites to understand how behavioral information is collected. We have compiled a comprehensive public database of online tracking companies and privacy practices. Through this blog, we have provided a choice-driven perspective on developments in the ad-targeting ecosystem. We have interacted privately with scores of ad networks to make privacy disclosure and processes more effective. Driven by word-of-mouth, PrivacyChoice has facilitated opt-outs for nearly 200,000 visitors, comprising nearly 10 million opt-out transactions.

Now it’s time to explore the other choice a consumer may want to make when it comes to their online interests and advertising: the decision to opt-in.

The idea of Search and Share is simple: Enable consumers to easily capture some of the advertising value of their own searches, and put that value to use for causes they select. Consumer searches create billions of dollars in value for companies like Google. Why shouldn’t consumers have a greater stake?

How it works. Install the Search and Share browser add-on (Firefox or Chrome) and you will see an new button on Google — “Search and Share.” Use it and your search query is made available not only to Google, but also to other selected advertising companies who pay for that anonymous data, in order to target ads more effectively. All of the proceeds go to causes you select, and you stay in touch with those causes through subtle messages and tweets next to your search results. You can search in the same way as you always do, and nothing else about your Google search experience will change.

What it means for user privacy. Search and Share adheres to three key privacy requirements:

  • Anonymity. No registration is required. No email or other personal information is required or collected. Participating ad companies collect no personal information and have committed to keep users anonymous.
  • Control. The user can always choose whether to share a particular search; each instance of data sharing involves choice. (And the functionality is completely disabled when the user chooses private browsing mode.) The ‘Search and Share” button continuously reminds the user that the service is present. The cause messages that appear on search results pages confirm that a search has been shared. Uninstallation is easy, and includes a one-click opt-out from all networks.
  • Transparency. For each search they share, the user can see the companies who received it and their policies. Each participating ad company also provides consumers with a view of the interests in their profile.

Who’s behind it. A great group of folks have come together to support the Search and Share project, from Cause Ambassadors to add-on developers. We’re also grateful for the support of NAI members Lotame and BlueKai, as participating ad companies.

As a companion project to PrivacyChoice, Search and Share gives me an opportunity to see the privacy landscape through two new and important perspectives: First, that of the publisher seeking to monetize an audience of consumers, and second, that of the consumer who is comfortable with interest-based advertising and now has an even more tangible reason to engage with it.

I’ll report back as we start to promote the service and gather consumer input. Please give it a try, and learn more about the details in our FAQ. Your comments will be much appreciated.