US web users reject online behaviour tracking as EC tightens regulations

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US web users reject online behaviour tracking as EC tightens regulations

Warwick Ashford

Most people in the US do not want to be tracked on the internet and are unwilling to trade their privacy for Web ads tailored to their interests, a study has found.

Two thirds of over 800 US internet users surveyed in a Gallup Poll said they do not believe advertisers should be able to tailor ads by collecting data about online activities, according to USA Today.

Given the choice, just 14% said they would allow all ad networks to tailor ads to them, 47% said they would allow only those networks they specifically authorised to do so, but 37% said they would not allow any targeted advertising.

Targeted or online behavioural advertising (OBA) is likely to remain attractive to advertisers because of studies that have shown it is 6% more effective, said Phil Lee, senior associate at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse.

But any organisations using or contemplating using OBA in Europe must be aware of changes coming in the new e-Privacy Directive, due to go into effect on 27 May, 2011, he said.

Although there are a few exceptions when behaviour tracking is needed to deliver a service, any use of the technique or cookies to store information about web users will require explicit consent, said Lee.

If organisations want to use OBA, he said, it is important they are very open about it in their privacy policy, provide a real choice to users to opt out of tracking, and avoid sensitive segments such as children and financial data.

It is also important organisations in Europe provide adequate security around storing only appropriate data and using anonymisation wherever possible.

"As a general rule, be upfront about any tracking and give users the ability to control how their data is stored and used," said Lee.

Saying two thirds of people in the US do not want targeted ads really means they do not want anyone following what they are doing, said Dave Evans of the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Telling people what information you are collecting and why goes a long way to making it seem less "spooky", he said.

In addition to minimising the personal data collected, giving clear notices to users and providing control over personal profiles, Evans said organisations should clearly label targeted ads.

But, the ICO is reluctant to impose specific regulations around OBA and is looking to the industry to come up with solutions to design compliant systems as it recognises that the industry, not the regulator, is best placed to do this, he said.


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