Consumer groups blast ad industry’s do-not-track plan

Top consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. and Europe have just sent this letter to top regulators on both sides of the Atlantic urging them not to be wooed by the online advertising industry’s call for law makers to keep their hands off online tracking.

The letter was drafted by Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, or TACD, a consortium of advocacy groups that champions consumer protection policies. It was sent to David Vladeck, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC and Jacob Kohnstamm, Chairman of the Article 29 Working Party.

The TACD’s letter outlines concerns about a version of a do-not-track mechanism recently rolled out by the the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group whose top members include giant data aggregators and online trackers Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

The IAB on Aug. 29 required its 500 members to embrace a brand new code of conduct that requires use of a turquoise-colored triangle icon with a lowercase letter ‘i’ at center; this is the IAB’s preferred mechanism for enabling consumers to choose not to be tracked online.

Chester

“The icon system was designed to quell the growing public uproar over behavioral targeting — known as online behavioral advertising, or OBA,” says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. TACD is asking “both governments to reject the current OBA self-regulatory regime as inadequate, and work with industry and consumer and privacy groups to ensure that significant revisions are made to protect consumer privacy.”

Chester says consumer advocates are particularly worried that the Obama administration is preparing a new privacy white paper that “likely will rely on this flimsy self-regulatory system as a way to protect consumer privacy.”

Zaneis

Mike Zaneis, IAB senior vice president and general counsel, counters that he’s confident U.S. regulators and law makers are fully versed on industry’s arguments as to why it is vital to continue to let data aggregators and online trackers self-regulate themselves.

“We are fortunate enough in the U.S. to have thoughtful regulators that take the time to understand our program and let it fully develop before preemptively deeming it inadequate,” says Zaneis. “The FTC wants to read the whole book, whereas others read the first chapter and then write their own ending.”