Digital Advertising Alliance Argues Online Privacy Is All About Choice

New polling from the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) highlights the importance of guidelines to limit Web companies' online tracking.

Most Internet users would feel more confident that their privacy is protected online if advertisers and Web companies adhered to certain guidelines that limited the amount of data they can collect and offer consumers the ability to opt out of tracking, according to a new survey from the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition representing advertising associations and businesses.

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The DAA is positioning the poll, which was conducted by Zogby Analytics, as the latest piece of evidence that a self-regulatory framework with broad industry participation can offer meaningful protections for consumer privacy on the Web.

What Is the Digital Advertising Alliance Mission?

The DAA is the group behind the Advertising Options icon that participating ad networks and advertisers -- including heavy hitters like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft -- are incorporating into their ads to provide users notice about how information about their interests is being collected and the ability to limit that type of tracking. Each month, more than 1 trillion ads containing the DAA icon are served globally, according to the group.

Formed three years ago, the DAA has been working to provide consumers with information and tools to understand and manage the data that is being collected about them online, while warning against government regulations that could limit advertisers' ability to tailor their messages to consumers' interests. Interest-based advertising, the DAA argues, is the engine behind much of the free content and applications available on the Web.

"We as an industry have in fact subsidized the commercial Internet," Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA, said in an interview.

In the poll of just more than 1,000 Web users, 36.5 percent of respondents indicated that they would like to see ads that are more relevant to their interests. Mastria suggests that that figure, if anything, understates the value of tailored ads, which boast a conversion rate nearly twice as high as generic ads.

"It may not be obvious, they may not report it, but that's what the clickthroughs tell us," Mastria says.

"It's a little like electricity. You expect it to be there," he adds. "You turn on the Internet, you expect it to be relevant."

When survey respondents were asked if they would feel more comfortable about how their information was being used if Web pages offered a mechanism to opt out of tracking, if there was a prohibition against collecting sensitive data about areas such as health and finance, or if there was an enforcement program to punish bad actors in the advertising space, a large majority (73 percent) said that either one or all of those protections would ease their privacy concerns.

The wording of that question was no accident -- companies that sign onto the DAA's framework are subject to each of those conditions. To date, the Direct Marketing Association and the Better Business Bureau, which are jointly responsible for enforcing DAA compliance, have brought 26 public actions against member companies, each of which has resulted in bringing the offending party into compliance, according to Mastria.

(International Data Group, the publisher of CIO.com, is one of the companies that participates in the DAA's self-regulatory privacy framework.)

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