Privacy Commish Says Targeted Ads Must Be Optional

by Jordan Richardson on December 7, 2011

Canada’s privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says that consumers should be able to “opt out” of online tracking for purposes of targeted advertisements. She made the statement while revealing new guidelines pertaining to online behavioural advertising at a conference in Toronto.

“Some people like receiving ads targeted to their specific interests. Others are extremely uncomfortable with the notion of their online activities being tracked. People’s choices must be respected,” said Stoddart.

Many companies, like Google and Facebook, collect and use piles upon piles of data to target advertisements and marketing campaigns at the “right” consumers.

According to the office of the commissioner, Visa has taken out patents to market transaction information for targeted ads by meshing the data from transactions with information compiled via a number of alternate channels, including online wish lists, social networking sites and search engines.

Some companies have taken it upon themselves to let users in on how their information is being used. Google has an “Ads Preferences Manager,” for instance, and has options for letting users opt out of targeted advertisements to go with its Google Takeout option. Facebook has its privacy policy and ad-building software open for public perusal.

But many companies and most websites that collect data simply don’t offer many options for consumers, rendering browsing the Internet akin to leaving a trail of cookie crumbs waiting to be snapped up and sold to third parties.

“Many Canadians don’t know how they’re being tracked — and that’s no surprise because, in too many cases, they have to dig down to the bottom of a long and legalistic privacy policy to find out,” said Stoddart.

The new guidelines from the privacy commissioner are as follows:

  1. Any collection or use of a person’s web browsing activity must be done with the person’s knowledge and consent.
  2. Information about tracking and behavioural advertising, including its purpose, should be communicated clearly and not buried in a privacy policy.
  3. Internet users should be able to easily opt out, ideally before the information is collected.
  4. Technology that makes it impossible for the user to opt out should be avoided. Examples include zombie cookies, super cookies and device fingerprinting.
  5. Organizations should avoid tracking children and tracking on websites aimed at children because they cannot provide meaningful consent.
  6. The information collected should be limited and should never include sensitive information such as that related to health.
  7. The information or the link between the information and a person’s identity should be destroyed as soon as possible.

These guidelines, and they are guidelines (not rules or laws), help put Canada on the map with other countries and government bodies, like the European Union, in handling the pervasive issue of privacy. And as bleakly redundant as it seems to be to say, how effective these guidelines will be in stopping, or at least decelerating, the annihilation of user privacy remains to be seen.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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