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    New York Times: Industry Tightens Its Standards for Tracking Web Surfers

    The New York Times reports on new voluntary self-regulatory guidelines (pdf) on targeted behavioral advertising from a consortium of groups in the behavioral advertising industry. These voluntary guidelines come after Congress held hearings and the Federal Trade Commission published a report on the issue.

    In an effort to fend off federal regulation, major trade groups in the advertising industry have announced stricter guidelines on how their members use and collect online data. […]

    The report, “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising,” reflects several of the commission’s suggestions from February. The principles are meant to go into effect in 2010, affecting the more than 5,000 companies that belong to the sponsoring organizations, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Disney and Verizon. […]

    Some privacy advocates have been pushing for more stringent rules, saying, for instance, that consumers must explicitly approve all data collection. […]

    Another issue privacy watchdogs have raised is that consumers have no access to the data being collected about them — it is all done behind the scenes.

    Giving consumers access to the data is “an interesting concept,” [said Stuart P. Ingis, a lawyer for the trade groups,] noting that what the companies collect shows up as “a bunch of ones and zeros.”

    “The data is in computer wording, programming speak, and to the consumer would mean nothing,” he said.

    (A handful of online companies, including Google, have translated the data, however, and have said they will give consumers access.)

    “Of course they can give the profile information, the profile information can be translated,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group, when asked about Mr. Ingis’s statement. “People need to have access to their entire profile, and this is a thinly veiled excuse so that the companies can retain the data without giving consumers control over their information.”

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