Industry Agrees on Icon to Alert Users to Behavioral Advertising

Lora Bentley

I first talked to Future of Privacy Forum's Christopher Wolf in October after the group formalized its partnership with George Washington University Law School to address privacy policy issues that have emerged as technology advances.Their biggest focus areas at the time were behavioral advertising and the smart grid. Wolf told me:

One of the things we are doing right now is creating, with an advertising firm and a consumer research firm, an icon that can appear in online ads that consumers can click to find out more about the ad-why it's being tailored to them, what's being collected.

The goal, he said, is to make consumers more aware of behavioral advertising so they can have more control over the ads they see. Wednesday, that icon is slated to be unveiled, according to The New York Times. A lowercase "i" with a circle around it (much like @), the icon is to be displayed on Web sites that use behavioral advertising. Companies will start using the icon in ads beginning this summer. NYT writer Stephanie Clifford explains:

When consumers click on the icon, a white "i" surrounded by a circle on a blue background, they will be taken to a page explaining how the advertiser uses their Web surfing history and demographic profile to send them certain ads.

Industry stakeholders agreed to use the icon in an effort to fend off government regulation in online advertising. Since the Federal Trade Commission has spent considerable time in recent months debating the merits of online privacy regulation, the move seems to have come just in time. However, an FTC representative quoted in the story says the agency will have to wait and see whether use of the icon will be enough to keep consumers informed.

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