New Guidelines on Behavioral Ad Marketing Released

Dennis Faas's picture

The online advertising industry has introduced a set of guidelines intended to corral a genre of particularly controversial advertisements. Behavioral advertising -- a form of advertising that delivers ads based on a user's browsing activity -- is now targeted by a code of practice created by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

UK Internet Service Provider British Telecom (BT) partnered with Phorm, Inc. to roll out its new Webwise system. (Source:

The Internet Advertising Bureau Guidelines

The guidelines (PDF) released by the IAB have been signed by Phorm, AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo and operate on three principles:

  • Notice: Consumers must be made aware that data is being collected for behavioral advertising
  • Consent: Consumers must be given the option to opt out if they decline participation
  • Education: Consumers must be given clear and simple information about how their information is used

Privacy Concerns For Behavioral Advertising

"There are valid privacy concerns about creating a segment for [behavioral advertising] in some areas because they could be considered sensitive in certain contexts. Individual members may therefore make different judgments in their respective approach but will be guided by the overriding objective of maintaining user trust," say the guidelines. (Source (PDF):

Behavioral advertising has caused a lot of controversy with privacy advocates for quite a while. BT has not given a date for when the service will be rolled out.

The online advertising industry is quick to point out that because the information collected is anonymous, advertisers have no idea who individual users are.

Guidelines Fail to Address Every Concern

Nate Elliott, a principal researcher at Forrester has been surprised at how much controversy has been caused by Phorm's partnership with BT, noting that there are dozens of companies who have done this type of advertising for years. According to Forrester, 26% of European online advertisers used behavioral-based advertising during 2008. (Source:

The Open Rights Group (ORG), in a blog entry by executive director Jim Killock, said that the protections offered by the Internet Advertising Bureau guidelines had a number of clear problems, including stopping short of making all behavioral advertising 'opt-in.' (Source:

Behavioral advertising is specifically forbidden from targeting children younger than 13 in the IAB guidelines which also say that companies should consider other areas or avoid targeting sensitive groups.  However, as noted by the Register UK, they do not issue any instructions on what those groups or areas might be and exactly what actions should be taken. (Source:

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