Consumer Watchdog Says Online Ad Industry Self-Regulation Fails to Protect Privacy; Calls for Congress to Enact Do Not Track Me Law

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WASHINGTON, DC — Consumer Watchdog said that the self-regulatory privacy program created by online advertisers and scheduled to take effect for some today fails to protect consumers from companies that track their behavior online. Legislation enacting a “Do Not Track Me” option is necessary to ensure consumers have an easy to use, effective and universal choice to avoid tracking, said Consumer Watchdog.

The self-regulatory program created by the online behavioral advertising industry is not a Do Not Track option because it does not allow consumers to opt out of tracking. It offers a limited privacy feature consumers may use to block targeted advertisements from participating companies. Today is the deadline for members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) to comply with the program’s guidelines.

As a privacy feature the program fails on several fronts, said Consumer Watchdog.

Transparency: Consumers are not notified before tracking begins of how and why they are being tracked. Instead, an ad icon is displayed on the ad or webpage where an ad appears. Users must know to click on the icon to obtain any information about tracking or invoke the limited opt-out.
Persistency: A choice by consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads will remain only until a consumer clears his cookies – then the choice disappears.
Universal Application: The opt-out only applies to companies that agree to participate. A recent study found the icon appeared on only 11% of ads.
Enforceability: The promise by advertisers not to serve targeted ads may be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, but not state Attorneys General or individual consumers. It cannot be enforced against companies that do not choose to participate.
Mobile Devices: The opt-out does not apply to mobile devices.

The program does allow consumers to avoid targeted advertising by members of the IAB and other participating companies that agree to comply, and the choice will persist as long as a consumer does not clear cookies on her browser. Although this is a small step in the direction of consumer choice, it does not give consumers meaningful control over tracking of their activities online, said Consumer Watchdog, because companies may still collect and use that information for purposes other than targeted advertising.

“Consumers have no more control today than they did yesterday over whether their information is tracked and collected by companies online,” said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog. “This industry program is another example of the failure of self-regulation to protect consumers from unwanted monitoring of every move they make on the internet and their mobile devices. Action by Congress and the FTC to require a Do Not Track Me option is crucial for consumers to gain control over their own information.”

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Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at:

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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