'Open Data Partnership' promises greater consumer control over tracking data

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a "Do Not Track" list for collection of data on consumer browsing habits. Web tracking companies responded with a program of their own.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Internet privacy is a hot, hot-button issue, and lately, the Federal Trade Commission has been threatening to clamp down on the way companies are gathering and storing data on consumers' browsing habits. Last week, the FTC proposed implementation of a “Do Not Track” mechanism – likely a persistent setting on consumers’ browsers – so consumers can choose whether to allow the collection of data regarding their online searching and browsing activities.

In response to increased FTC attention to the issue -- and likely as a way to head off regulation -- a group of leading Web marketing companies announced a partnership intended to give consumers more control over data collected about them and managed by online marketing vendors.

Under the aegis of The Better Advertising Project, the initiative, called the Open Data Partnership, is intended to provide consumers with full transparency into data collected about their browsing habits "and enable them to edit their information or opt out completely from any participating company’s cookie."

Companies initially participating in the partnership include: 33Across, Bizo, BlueKai, Demdex, eXelate, Lotame, SafeCount and Turn. "The companies involved represent some of the most aggressive trackers of Internet users, writesthe Wall Street Journal's Emily Steele. For example,she says, "BlueKai trades data on more than 200 million Internet users, boasting the ability to reach more than 80% of the U.S. Internet population."

She also observes that the timing of the ODP announcement is no accident, given last week's FTC proposal -- "a move the online advertising industry opposes." Mike Zaneis, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), said as much: “Better Advertising’s Open Data Partnership is exactly the kind of initiative that will enable us to remain self-regulated as an industry. The more transparency we can provide consumers that enables them to retain control over their own data, the more trusted our ecosystem becomes – to the benefit of everyone.”

The FTC also said that industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation “have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection.” The ODF service is expected to be available to consumers in January.

The industry's "Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising" program employs the use of the “Advertising Option Icon” and accompanying language, to be displayed where data is collected and used for behavioral advertising. The Advertising Option Icon indicates a company’s use of online behavioral advertising and adherence to the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, guiding the Program. In 2008, the industry published a set of principles intended to guide ethical behavior in the way consumer data is handled.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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