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Search Engines Sign Off on New Behavioral Ad Guidelines

The United Kingdom arm of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has launched fresh guidelines for behavioral advertising (pdf).

Behavioral advertising was a topic of controversy in 2008 when users in the US and the UK discovered ISPs were using their web-surfing data to serve ads to them, with help from now-stigmatized ad firms like Phorm and NebuAd.

Per the guidelines:

  • Companies mining online information for behavioral advertising must clearly inform consumers that data is being collected for this reason.
  • Users must be provided a clear means to decline behavioral advertising. Where applicable, such models must request user consent.
  • Users must be given clear, understandable information about how their data is being used, and how they can decline.

The IAB's behavioral ad guidelines were signed by major firms — including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Platform-A, NebuAd and Phorm. For their part, industry members emphasized that data-gathering for behavioral targeting purposes would always be anonymous.

"There is no personally identifiable information. They don't have your name, address or phone number. Instead search terms are linked to a random cookie number in a general geographic area," said Forrester researcher Nate Elliott, expressing surprise at how angry the ad model made privacy advocates last year.

Last year, in Senate hearings over privacy issues associated with behavioral advertising, Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey compared imposing behavioral ads on unwitting consumers to spousal abuse.

Despite the hyperbole, the industry appears to be in accord that behavioral advertising is the future of online marketing. To put the new guidelines together — and ensure the model wouldn't again risk federal ire — the IAB solicited assistance from a number of major marketing and ad associations, including the AAAA, ANA, the BBB and the DMA.

Today, a number of companies are experimenting with the model (notably without help from ISPs), including Headup, a user-initiated add-on for Firefox; and TARGUSinfo's AdAdvisor, which uses e-commerce data to serve relevant ads to consumers.


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