Washington takes aim at behavioral targeting

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Washington takes aim at behavioral targeting
Washington takes aim at behavioral targeting

PCH was sued by state attorneys general over some of its contests in the past. The company is among those leading the charge on transparency in behavioral marketing. The PCH site features a preference center where visitors can opt in or out of targeted content. Each of its ads links to a website that offers information on targeting. The company is also working with TRUSTe in a pilot program to ensure marketers are honest about their behavioral tracking.

“We are being careful because we need to be above the fray,” says Glantz. “We need to set the standard. Consumer trust is absolutely critical. When you put advertisements all over the Internet, they have to believe and trust that you are not going to use that information in unethical ways.”

Marketing groups concede that consumers do not know enough about the targeting, but argue that the critics vastly overstate the danger and concern. “No ad network has your name, e-mail address or credit card number,” says Mike Zaneis, VP, public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a group that represents publishers and sellers of advertising on the Internet.

The marketing industry hopes to head off regulation with a voluntary new program to monitor behavioral targeting. The program will be run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and will educate companies on what is taking place in behavioral targeting and issues of transparency.

The industry initiative will include an easy opt out of all behavioral targeting; a logo for all online ads delivered using targeting; a link in the ad that explains how the ad was served and possibly information on the profiling used. In addition, the bureau's National Advertising Review Council will start monitoring millions of online ads to ensure compliance.

“We think transparency is the key,” says Jerry Cerasale, SVP of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, which is also involved in the new self-regulation push. “Consumers may be able to get over the Big Brother aspect if they learn more about [what is taking place].

Charles Curran, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, the association of advertising networks, says NAI believes that a lot of the concerns are due to a lack of transparency in the targeting, problems that NAI is working hard to fix.

“The next step is to make all of the advertising categories visible,” Curran says. Already a number of members, among them Yahoo, Google and Microsoft, provide sites where consumers can see their own profile information.

While additional hearings could take place this year, legislation is unlikely to move forward until next year, meaning that what action Congress takes could be impacted by the midterm election results. “Whether the legislation goes anywhere will depend on how effective our self regulatory program is,” says Cerasale.

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