Friday, 10 July 2009

Two incidents caught my attention today. The first is the announcement made by a group of US media and marketing trade associations that they have agreed to adopt a set of "Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioural Advertising" and the other is a commentary by Prof. Zittrain about Google's Chrome.

The Principles adopted by the group consisting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, were primarily adopted out of necessity than need. The necessity was to avoid the introduction of legislation targeting online behavioural advertising. And as far as the need goes, I'm sure this group would argue against any such need for these principles in the first place. After all, it is largely legal and why impose limits on something which can be done right now i.e. the ability to collect, process and store as much data as is currently available online.

What stikes me is that the priciples were quickly labelled the "Seven Privacy Principles" by commentators but a closer reading of the document reveals very carefully crafted phrases to avoid giving too much away in terms of the ability aggregate data. If there ever was doubt that data protection is not the same as privacy protection, this is an example of the differences between the two concepts. In any event, the view so far is that the Principles adopted still does nto go far enough to stem the threat of legislation. Watch this space!

Zittrain's article on Google's Chrome - its operating system, neatly sums up the omnipotent abililty of the web in sucking in data about ourselves and then uses the data in ways we never imagined, creating ever more complete profiles about ourselves, right under our very noses. The point made in the article suggests that getting off on the correct footing in terms of preserving web users' freedom being a paramount consideration.

Google's adWords and its scanning of email contents for targetted advertisements is just one example of data being sucked in to process information and provide advertisements that are linked to the contents of our communication. The ad industry in this sense cannot be said to have gotten off on the correct footing. Not many users of the Net are aware of the cookies and other seemingly non-criminal methods of data gathering conducted on what we put online.

Some of the stated objectives of the Principles is to "better foster transparency, knowledge, and choice for consumers". This is to be done through the use of "enhanced notices" that inform the consumer whether they are being tracked online. It isn't very clear on what the consumer can do if there has been a breach of the principles, though I expect this is what remains to be seen when these Principles are in place by "early 2010".

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