Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Online Ad Business Hopes a Logo Will Fend Off Feds, Privacy Problems

If the Web ad business really wanted to put an end to its simmering privacy problem, it could do so with one step: Make behavioral advertising opt-in only.

Which means it would allow publishers, advertisers and their proxies to watch what you do on the Web, and serve ads to you based on your behavior, only with your explicit consent.

But the Web ad business insists that an opt-in solution is no solution at all and would stop the industry in its tracks. So a coalition of publishers and ad networks, including Google, Yahoo and AOL–everyone, really–is trying out gambits like this logo:

The technical name for this is the “Advertising Option Icon.” It’s supposed to let you know that you’re seeing ads served up through behavioral tracking. And that clicking on the image will tell you more and give you a link to a “Consumer Opt-Out Page, where consumers will be able to easily opt-out of some or all participating companies’ online behavioral ads, if they choose.”

Translation: Hey Washington! No need to step in and regulate us! We’re doing it all on our own!

It’s theoretically possible that the average consumer, who is already trained to ignore most online advertising to begin with, figures out what the logo means. But it’s not very likely.

And it’s even less likely that this one is going to satisfy privacy advocates and/or politicians who pay attention to them.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik