Behavioral Ad Icon Moves to Europe

A coalition of industry associations in Europe will formally introduce a behavioral ad privacy icon later this month. Designed to give European consumers choice around how their data is collected and used online, it is intended to satisfy new E.U. laws that come into force at the end of May.

Following its introduction the icon will, in theory, appear alongside or within any online ads targeted using behavioral data, and provide users with mechanisms to opt out of having their information collected for those purposes.

The IAB Europe and its network of national IAB partners have spearheaded the initiative, alongside industry groups including the Federation of European Direct and Interactive Marketing, The European Association of Communication Agencies and the World Federation of Advertisers.

In November 2009 the European Commission passed an amendment to the European Privacy Directive stating the placing of cookies on a user’s machine would only be allowed following “his/her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information.”

It’s that legal requirement the icon and accompanying system is intended to fulfill, based on the assumption that a user consents to receiving behavioral advertising if he chooses not to opt out, having been presented with information about the practice.

The initiative – labeled the Online Behavioral Advertising Framework – follows in the footsteps of a similar self-regulatory effort in the U.S. Third party companies Evidon, TRUSTe and DoubleVerify are all certified to enable the placement of the icon in display ads on behalf of advertisers and publishers.

That effort was prompted largely by increased scrutiny of online ad practices by the FTC and Congress, which has most recently evolved into calls for a do-not-track mechanism. The European framework is not intended to address that issue directly, but rather to prepare European stakeholders for the new E.U. laws, which come into force on May 26.

According to Colin O’Malley, Evidon’s VP of business development and privacy, the company is currently conducting trials with clients in the U.K. Although the firm’s underlying technology used to support the icon there is the same as in the U.S., specific details about its use are yet to be decided.

“The framework will be formalized this month… but there are still discussions taking place behind the scenes,” he said.

For example, the icon itself may or may not be the same as the one currently being rolled out in the U.S. and – owing to the fragmented nature of the European market – certain differences in implementation at a regional and national level might be necessary, O’Malley implied.

Regardless, the underlying function of the icon appears determined, and essentially mirrors that of the U.S. program. Upon clicking, users will be taken to a landing page where they can learn how and why their data is being collected, and by what firms. They can then choose to opt in or out of being tracked by individual entities, or choose a blanket opt-out.

Of course, the opt-out will only apply to companies that support the initiative, and an initial proposal presented to the E.U. by the coalition described the need for “effective enforcement” of the Framework to help drive that adoption.

The framework is expected to be announced at some point this month, perhaps as soon as next week.

Associations endorsing the framework also include European Newspaper Publisher’s Association, European Federation of Magazine Publishers, European Publisher’s Council and Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe.

According to O’Malley, certain national IAB’s within the European umbrella have also been extremely important for the formation of the framework, with the IAB U.K.’s head of regulatory affairs, Nick Stringer, proving “perhaps most influential day to day.”

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