Industry Groups Introduce Tech Specs for Behavioral Ad Notice

Two online ad trade groups have unveiled technical specs for implementing industry-adopted behavioral ad guidelines.

The new specifications, released today by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), detail how companies involved in serving behaviorally-targeted ads should expose information about how those ads got to their final destination. Their publication follows the January release of a graphic icon meant for display on behaviorally targeted as, and marks the latest developments in a long and complicated self-regulatory process intended to stave off government intervention.

“This is the roadmap people need to build around…to make clear from a technical perspective that we have a broad consensus around the general approach,” said Charles Curran, executive director of the NAI, a group encompassing 44 ad networks, online data firms, and other third party companies enabling targeted online advertising.

Now it’s up to engineers and ad operations staff to determine how to implement what the industry groups have deemed the “CLEAR (Control Links for Education and Advertising Responsibly) Ad Notice Technical Specifications.” The specs can be found online at

Though there is no deadline for implementation, explained Curran, “You’ll see companies moving in the next few months to go into the beta phase.”

“I think you can view today as a bit of a jumping off point for the industry,” said Mike Zaneis, VP of public policy at the IAB. “Over the coming months, you’re going to see companies begin to put that icon into use.”

The guidelines allow some flexibility in how information about companies involved in serving a particular ad is presented to the consumer. The icon and accompanying text must be placed as an overlay in the upper right corner of a standard display ad or in the upper right corner outside the ad. Once clicked, the symbol will launch an interstitial revealing information about the advertiser, ad delivery firms, and targeting data, in addition to linking to educational information.

Publishers or ad networks can create their own formats for interstitials, though the ultimate goal is to develop a standardized approach that can be easily recognized and understood by consumers. Once publishers and ad networks begin rolling out the icon, the IAB plans a new education campaign to teach consumers about the initiative, according to Zaneis.

Several questions remain in terms of just how all the data used to serve up each behavioral ad will be collected in order to be presented in a standard format. According to Curran, the industry groups are still determining the best approach – whether it be compiling the information in some centralized hub, or collecting it as it travels through the ad delivery process in a daisy chain fashion.

“There are ongoing discussions about whether it should be cached [in one place]…or assembled point-to-point… What’s the most scalable way to transport that information? ” said Curran.

The icon was developed by a coalition of four organizations: the IAB, the Direct Marketing Association, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and Association of National Advertisers, which is overseen by the Better Business Bureau’s advertising review body. That symbol and the specs continue an industry initiative launched by the coalition’s 2009 release of Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, aimed at establishing clear principles to protect consumer privacy while maintaining an increasingly popular and lucrative form of online advertising.

TRUSTe introduced its own behavioral ad icon in January, specifically geared towards publishers.

As for the regulatory environment, online advertisers can expect privacy legislation to be presented sometime in the next few weeks, according to Zaneis, who is in close contact with key legislative offices on Capitol Hill. “We absolutely expect to see a draft bill from Congressman [Rick] Boucher in the next several weeks. They seem to have language and are working through the last few substantive and procedural issues before sharing it more widely,” he told ClickZ News. Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, a key body dealing with online ad related issues and online privacy.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken more concrete action affecting behavioral advertisers, including the revision of its own behavioral advertising principles last year. The industry coalition’s guidelines are based on those. Yet, Zaneis said he expects the FTC will not move forward with any new rules governing behavioral ad practices.

As reported by Mediaweek last month, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said, “It doesn’t make sense to initiate rule making where business practices and consumer attitudes are still evolving like behavioral targeting,” adding, “We prefer self-regulation.”

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