Advertising group close to mobile privacy guidelines

An FTC commissioner calls the Digital Advertising Alliance a success story in self-regulation

The US-based Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of online advertising networks and companies, will soon release guidelines for the use of targeted advertising on mobile devices, although it's been difficult to come up with standards in the diverse mobile marketplace, members of the DAA said.

With mobile privacy standards under fire from some U.S. lawmakers and privacy advocates, the DAA is working toward guidelines that will address consumer choice related to targeted ads on mobile devices, including ads that appear in mobile apps, said Mike Signorelli, a counsel to the DAA.

The mobile guidelines will have stronger standards governing the use of smartphone users' geolocation data than for some other personal data, Signorelli said during a panel discussion on the mobile guidelines at a DAA conference in Washington, D.C. The mobile guidelines will include "heightened safeguards" for real-time location data, he said.

But there may be some continued disagreement on how the guidelines handle location data. Location data is critical to mobile advertisers who want to give smartphone owners real-time offers, said Ho Shin, general counsel for Millennial Media, a mobile advertising firm.

Many smartphone owners don't appear concerned about sharing their location on social media sites or about downloading apps that warn them about their use of location information, Shin said. "Consumers aren't maybe as scared about that as some of the media or privacy zealots make it out to be," he said.

The DAA, a self-regulatory effort allowing consumers to opt out of targeted advertising, has anticipated releasing the mobile guidelines for several months. The coalition launched guidelines for online tracking and targeted advertising in 2010, but those guidelines weren't specifically targeted at advertising and tracking on mobile devices.

Beyond debates about location and other sensitive data, the creation of mobile guidelines has been a challenge because of the diversity of ways ads are delivered on mobile devices, said Kevin Trilli, vice president of product for privacy protection provider TRUSTe, a DAA member. While the Android OS would permit the use of a cookie to allow device users to opt out of targeted ads, versions of iOS and many mobile apps don't use cookies, he said.

Consumers also use thousands of mobile devices with a variety of screen sizes, making it a challenge for DAA companies to deliver a consistent notice about targeted advertising and tracking, panel participants said.

Getting all mobile advertising platforms to recognize a persistent consumer choice on whether to allow tracking is a "complex issue," Trilli said.

The DAA's goal is to release general guidelines about giving consumers choice about tracking and targeted advertising, and allow companies to figure out how to implement those guidelines, Signorelli said.

During the conference, Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican commissioner at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, praised the DAA for pushing its targeted advertising guidelines. Ohlhausen said she's looking forward to the DAA's mobile guidelines.

The FTC will take action when it sees online advertisers and networks acting unfairly or using deceptive business practices, but many consumers don't appear to be concerned about targeted advertising and online tracking, Ohlhausen said. The DAA's opt-out options are a "great success story," she added.

Some privacy groups have called online tracking "creepy," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations at the Association of National Advertisers.

"I don't think creepiness falls into the definition" of unfairness or deceptive business practices, Ohlhausen said.

Privacy groups and some U.S. lawmakers have criticized self-regulatory efforts for online privacy. In April, Senator John "Jay" Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, blasted the online advertising industry for not meeting its promised deadline to implement a do-not-track program by the end of 2012.

"I personally have long expressed skepticism about the ability, or the willingness, of companies to regulate themselves on behalf of consumers when it effects their bottom line," Rockefeller said then. "I do not believe that companies with business models based upon the collection and monetization of personal information will voluntarily stop these practices if it negatively affects their profit margins."

(IDG, the parent company of the IDG News Service, is a member of the DAA.)

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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