Archive for July, 2010

Dear IAB: Don’t fear the opt-out

July 21, 2010

The new ad-targeting privacy bill offered by Rep. Bobby Rush is notable because, as reported by Mediapost, it reflects greater confidence in self-regulation. But before you start looking for common ground, consider this disturbing quote:

[IAB Executive] Zaneis questioned whether it made sense to enshrine into law a universal opt-out, such as the one offered through the Network Advertising Initiative. “The FTC hasn’t said that a universal opt-out is necessary,” Zaneis says. “It’s nice to have things like an NAI opt-out, but fundamentally flawed to say that you have to have a universal opt-out.”

It’s hard to conceive of a credible consumer privacy experience that does not include the ability to opt-out of targeting by all companies in a few clicks, as opposed to requiring consumers to chase down individual opt-outs from hundreds of companies. Reputable targeting companies already provide a universal opt-out, and we provide an even more universal opt-out at PrivacyChoice. Making it a requirement is a reasonable price to pay for the self-regulatory freedom otherwise offered by the Rush bill, including immunity from a private right of action.

Maybe Mr. Zaneis is just positioning for the coming negotiation. Or perhaps the fear is that the FTC will require a more effective and durable form of opt-out, perhaps based on Flash cookies or preference setting that is better integrated with browser tools. Maybe Better Advertising would provide the ability to download Ghostery — which can completely block tracking for ads — on every enhanced notice page.  Hmmm.

Here’s my (unsolicited) advice for the IAB: Don’t fear the opt-out. We have enough experience with opt-outs to know that only a very small percentage of users avail themselves of it, but far more consumers (and advertisers) will take assurance from truly easy and effective consumer choices. But this means sincerely embracing a great consumer privacy experience for targeted ads. A great experience involves durable preference setting in just a few clicks, it’s that simple. The good news for the industry is that, in the long run, enhanced notice and choice will and should become a platform for deeper engagement with consumers.

The universal opt-out is table stakes. Far more interesting topics are what companies will need to show consumers about their own profiles, and what kind of back-end oversight is needed to ensure that those profiles are only used as promised. The sooner this debate gets around to those questions, the quicker self-regulation will be a reality.

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The Rush bill fails on visibility

July 20, 2010

I was originally encouraged by news accounts describing the new bill announced yesterday to clarify consumer privacy requirements for behavioral targeting. But on reading the bill, it seems to miss the mark on at least one key point.

Unlike the Boucher bill, the Rush bill would not ensure that consumers can see the profile information collected about them. Instead, so long as targeting companies participate in a “Choice Program” safe harbor, they are absolved of the requirement to show consumers anything about their online profile.

Under the bill, the specific requirements for a “Choice Program” would be determined by the FTC, although the only specific requirements noted in the bill is a joint opt-out facility and some kind of periodic compliance review, which isn’t anything more than status quo for the NAI membership.

It makes  sense that participants in a safe-harbor program would be relieved of an opt-in requirement and the threat of private lawsuits.  But it’s not at all clear why Choice Program participants should have lesser disclosure obligations to consumers. In fact, transparency in the information being collected about consumers is the sunshine that will establish norms and boundaries for profiling, which is critical to the success of self-regulation.

Bottom line: If an advertiser can see my profile, why shouldn’t I be able to see it, too?

Criteo’s “i”

July 11, 2010

After shopping for sandals on Zappos today, I was retargeted by Criteo on Huffington Post. In terms of consumer disclosure and choice, it was a good experience.

Criteo’s banner used their own version of the “i” (less noticeable perhaps than the IAB’s version):

And the landing page for targeting information was co-branded with Zappos, turning a potential opt-out situation into a sales opportunity. Smartly done:

Retargeting disclosure is pretty straightforward — there’s no broader consumer profile to disclose, and only one data provider is involved. You would expect retargeters to be early adopters of in-ad disclosure, given the potential “creepiness” factor of seeing a banner one one site for the very same product that you searched for on another.

I’m not sure how meaningful it is to offer two opt-out alternatives (one for retargeting on behalf of Zappos only and one for Criteo retargeting generally), since most consumers who opt-out want to opt-out completely. It risks compounding an underlying flaw of the “power i” approach, which is that it gives consumers too many piecemeal choices as opposed to global control. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.