'Real choice' with behavioral targeting

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Tacoda chairman Dave Morgan's fear of a behavioral targeting privacy "blow up" and his resulting announcement that his company would begin to serve public service announcement-type ads to consumers who visit his company's network of publishers at least once every six months is a good first step to providing consumers with choice.

However, such a solution does not go far enough. The purpose of this article is to present an industry-wide "real choice" behavioral targeting privacy initiative based on a branded, opt-out link within every delivered banner.

This is something that all behavioral targeting players should aspire to and implement, for the benefit of our industry, our publishers and advertisers and, most importantly, the consumers who see the ads that we enable.

Behavioral targeting practitioners are aware that giving users notice and an option to opt out are elementary components of any consumer choice initiative. Ensuring that data provider partners offer robust notice and clear choice to consumers is the first requirement for any truly consumer-friendly industry-wide initiative.

This means our data partners must do two things:

• Clearly outline to the consumer, either on their Web site privacy policy or in another prominent place, that third-party behavioral targeting vendors may collect non-personally-identifiable information about them and use such information to deliver targeted ads.

• Convey that consumers can opt out by clicking on the behavioral targeting vendor's opt-out link that is incorporated within the data provider's privacy policy or access such an opt-out link via a link within the data provider's privacy policy. This is something that we already expect all behavioral targeting vendors to be doing. If you are doing behavioral targeting and are not doing this, then you are, to use Mr. Morgan's terminology, fermenting a "blow up" for all of us.

Because few consumers actually read Web sites' privacy policies, we would do better if we provide consumers with a solution that will put them in control in a simpler way. This involves going beyond the above-mentioned minimum standard and including a branded, opt-out link in every delivered advertisement.

In other words, every banner ad should include a link that identifies the company responsible for the banner and that takes the consumer to a dedicated "opt-out" landing page if clicked (for example, a "Powered by Company X" link).

Incorporating such a branded, opt-out link in every delivered behaviorally targeted ad benefits consumers, who are always only one click away from preventing the collection of non-PII (personally identifiable information) and the delivery of unwanted targeted ads based on the collected information. This step benefits advertisers, who know their ads are viewed by a receptive audience. Those who are not interested can easily opt out from the banner itself.

The consumer does not need to understand cookies or how they work. The consumer does not need to do detective work to find out which company is responsible for a banner he finds offensive, find that company's cookie in the cookie folder and erase it, or, more likely, erase all cookies since he has no idea who is responsible for the offending banner.

Having a branded, opt-out link in the banner will keep advertisers and behavioral targeting players alert to what best benefits the consumer at all times. The consumer is always one click away from opting out and complaining about the offending vendor (if the banner is branded, responsibility for it is clear).

Education is another benefit. Consumers curious about the nature of behaviorally targeted ads are always one click away from learning what a behaviorally targeted banner is.

Lastly, a branded, opt-out link will benefit behavioral targeting vendors, who will receive credit from consumers for delivering relevant ads instead of irrelevant ads and for respecting their privacy.

Roy Shkedi is CEO of AlmondNet, an ad network in New York. Reach him at roy@almondnet.com.

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