Profiling Firms Defend Themselves

As the heat appears to be intensifying over the practice of collecting consumer data from Web users, the industry launched its own plan to allow surfers to opt out.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) was announced at a government-sponsored workshop in Washington. Critics contend the practice of profiling, now used by almost all of the larger ad networks has the potential for serious abuse.

NAI launched a Web site to explain data collection policies in greater detail. Companies taking part in NAI are 24/7 Media Inc., AdForce Inc., AdKnowledge, CMGI Inc.’s Adsmart and Engage Technologies, Flycast Communications, Excite Inc.’s unit MatchLogic, DoubleClick, NetGravity and Real Media.

The NAI companies said they are developing a framework of self-regulation for their industry.

“The first thing to know about our companies is they are not mysterious entities taking profiling technologies to dizzying levels that threaten consumer privacy,” Reuters quoted Daniel Jaye, chief technology officer of Engage Technologies, as saying Consumers would be allowed to opt out of providing any personal identification information.

They could also opt out of receiving banner ads tailored to reflect their anonymous Web-surfing habits although NAI said it would continue to track the frequency with which ads were seen by consumers as an essential part of their business with advertisers.

Privacy groups at the workshop sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department were largely skeptical of the initiative by the profiling firms, Reuters reported.

“Opting out is totally unworkable as people don’t know where to opt out and with who,” Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a privacy advocacy group, was quoted as saying.

Catlett reportedly wants the FTC to prohibit profiling until new laws are enacted to limit use of consumers’ private information.

At many sites, however, opting out of data collection means opting out of visiting the site. Just try turning cookies off on your browser for a day or two.

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