Posted October 4, 2010 7:25 pm by with 4 comments

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Some of the internet’s biggest players have agreed to take part in a new self-regulatory program that provides transparency for behavioral advertising. The program was put together with the aid of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in conjunction with the July 2009 paper Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising.

The program revolves around the “Advertising Option Icon,” which will be displayed on or near any online ad that is the result of behavioral targeting. When clicking, the icon will link out to a disclosure statement that outlines the data collection and advertising practices used to produce the ad and it will give the consumer an “easy-to-use opt-out option.”

Since this is a self-regulatory program, companies must register for the program and, if they make more than $2,000,000 annually, they must pay a fee of $5,000 a year just to license the icon. There is another, possibly one-time, fee of $10,000 to set up the opt-out portion of the program.

You’ll find all of this information, along with the sign-up forms at

According to ClickZ, Yahoo, Google and ValueClick have all agreed to participate in the program. There’s much talk about how it’s the right thing to do to support the consumer, but it’s more likely the big boys are looking for a way to fend of the FTC man. The hope is that programs such as this will keep the Federal Trade Commission from stepping in with even stricter rules that will cost advertisers a lot more than $15,000 a year.

But is this all just for show? Will consumers actually benefit from seeing that little icon or having an opt-out option? How many people will actually click? Even if they do, they’re only opting out of that advertiser’s behavioral targeting program. How many programs are out there? And what will the ad be replaced with? A generic ad from the same company? I feel like the whole concept was designed to make consumers feel like they have control over their personal data. Like Glenda the good witch saying you always had the power in you, you just had to believe.

What I believe is that the “unsubscribe” link in spam emails only work 25% of the time, so I’m not optimistic about my chances of ending behavioral targeting with a few clicks of a tiny blue icon.

What do you think? Is this an important step in consumer rights or smoke and mirrors meant to pacify the FTC?

  • So far, the couple times I’ve seen the predecessor (an i in a circle), I’ve found that one let me opt out, another just said what it was about, with no opt-out. The people I talk with who aren’t marketers find behavioral advertising annoying at best, invasive at worst, and none had any idea there was a way to opt out of even those that had been making it available. So I don’t see how main stream users are going to know this is available either.

    And that’s what advertisers are banking on. Users who don’t know better.

    As far as I’m concerned behavioral advertising should be opt-in. Yeah – like we’ll see that day.

  • The big advertisers came up with a proactive way to keep the ftc regulators away. I’m going to say that a lot of consumers would be shocked to see the data that is really collected on them individually. The technology is amazing.

  • Always great to see standards – but the folks that were abusing before will continue to abuse after.

    • Cynthia

      This is so often the problem, that the rules and regulations only effect the people who were doing business ethically in the first place.