November 9, 2009

Advertisers Face Conflict To On-Line Tracking

Campaigners are stepping up efforts to curb online tracking of Internet use by firms that deliver adverts tailored to the specific interests of consumers, as polls reveal widespread unease with the practice.

Experts in Madrid said on Friday, corporations have always collected personal data on the people who buy their products but in the past this information came from sources such as magazine subscriptions and warranty cards.

Now it is flowing rapidly into databases from multiple online sources, giving companies the unprecedented power to create detailed profiles of their customers, they added.

Jorg Polakiewicz, head of the law reform department at the Council of Europe, says, "There are so many grey areas in advertising that if the end user knew about it all, it would make their hair grey."

They are working on a new legal instrument that it hopes will assist its 47 member states to better protect individuals from abuses, he says.

Rick Boucher, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, announced in September that he planned on introducing privacy legislation to regulate this so-called behavioral targeting of consumers.

The move towards greater regulation comes as surveys in the United States and Europe show that a majority of consumers on both sides of the Atlantic are against corporations monitoring their Internet use for marketing purposes.

According to one of the first independent surveys carried out by the University of California and University of Pennsylvania, two thirds of Americans object to targeted online ads.

William Bax, the deputy director general of European Consumers' Organization BEUC, says, "It is very important that consumers are firmly in control of their personal data. I think it is unacceptable that our profiles are built up and we cannot see what they are."

Visitors to Web pages belonging to Procter & Gamble, the world's largest household products maker, "must opt in to have an online relationship" with the company, according to the firm's global privacy executive, Sandra R. Hughes.

The company also has set up a privacy education Web page and it provides consumers with examples of what kind of adverts and discounts they will receive if they agree to provide personal details.