Ad Industry Joins FTC, White House in Do Not Track for Browsers

The ad industry’s self-regulatory privacy coalition has joined with the U.S. Commerce Department and Federal Trade Commission to plan for a browser-based do-not-track standard.

In addition, the Commerce Department has put forth seven basic privacy protections for consumers as part of its consumer bill of rights initiative. Although regulators seem pleased with the Digital Advertising Alliance’s browser-based DNT plans, privacy legislation may still be a reality in the future.

During a press call yesterday, the DAA was represented by its general counsel Stu Ingis, who said the organization – which encompasses large ad trade groups including the Direct Marketing Association and Interactive Advertising Bureau – will rely on the FTC to enforce compliance with the would-be browser-based tools and related requirements among DAA members. In other words, companies that are DAA members – including the web’s largest ad networks like Yahoo, Valueclick, and AOL Advertising – will have to answer to the FTC if they do not recognize DNT requests from consumers that come through the browsers.

“The DAA will immediately begin work to add browser-based header tools…to work with browser providers to make choice simple and clear,” said Ingis. “If the consumer selects a choice not to have data collected,” said Ingis, “that will be honored uniformly across all [DAA] companies.” He said the planned opt-out tool will continue tracking some online ad data for campaign reporting purposes.

The DAA has begun working with all the major browser companies, according to Ingis, who said he expects a standard for browser-based DNT to gestate for around nine months before being birthed for public use. The DAA currently runs the industry’s digital ad icon program which allows people to learn more about data tracked for advertising and allows them to opt-out from tracking.

The DAA “really are stepping up to our challenge to protect privacy,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. The agency will work with the DAA to implement the DNT plans, he said, noting, “This is a big step…. It’s not the end and it may not be the beginning of the end.”

Indeed, several privacy bills are pending in Congress, including one called the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act, introduced last year by Senators John Kerry and John McCain.

In conjunction with the DAA initiative, the Commerce Department laid out its consumer privacy bill of rights principles: (1) individual control over the types of data collected, (2) transparency on data use, (3) respect for the context in which data is provided, (4) secure and responsible handling of data, (5) the ability for consumers to access and ensure data accuracy, (6) a reasonable amount of data collection by companies, and (7) accountability of companies for strong data practices.

“We’ll be working with Congress to implement this through legislation,” said Secretary of Commerce John Bryson of the department’s privacy bill of rights. “We need this now. We cannot wait,” he continued, adding, “We envision this plan will be of great interest internationally.”

In January, Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission, called for a global DNT framework. The standard should be suitable for all providers of digital goods and services and satisfy laws around the world, she said. Throwing down the gauntlet, Kroes also called for an agreement on the DNT standard by June.

In December 2010, the Commerce department released its report on commercial data privacy, indicating support for voluntary programs protecting commercial data privacy. It also called for the establishment of a new division of the department to deal solely with commercial data privacy, and makes a push towards ensuring that privacy codes are feasible worldwide.

That same month, the FTC suggested a persistent cookie-like browser DNT mechanism should be put in place to protect consumer privacy. The tool would notify third party ad tracking and targeting firms that a consumer does not want to be tracked or receive targeted ads.

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