Profiling Firms Defend Themselves

As the heat appears to be intensifying over the practice of collecting
consumer data from Web users, the industry launched its own plan to allow
surfers to opt out.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) was announced at a
government-sponsored workshop in Washington. Critics contend the practice of
profiling, now used by almost all of the larger ad networks has the potential
for serious abuse.

NAI launched a Web site to explain data
collection policies in greater detail. Companies taking part in NAI are 24/7
Media Inc., AdForce Inc., AdKnowledge, CMGI Inc.’s Adsmart and Engage
Technologies, Flycast Communications, Excite Inc.’s unit MatchLogic,
DoubleClick, NetGravity and Real Media.

The NAI companies said they are developing a framework of self-regulation for
their industry.

“The first thing to know about our companies is they are not mysterious
entities taking profiling technologies to dizzying levels that threaten
consumer privacy,” Reuters quoted Daniel Jaye, chief
technology officer of Engage Technologies, as saying
Consumers would be allowed to opt out of providing any personal
identification information.

They could also opt out of receiving banner ads tailored to reflect their anonymous Web-surfing habits although
NAI said it would continue to track the frequency with which ads were seen by
consumers as an essential part of their business with advertisers.

Privacy groups at the workshop sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission and
the Commerce Department were largely skeptical of the initiative by the
profiling firms, Reuters reported.

“Opting out is totally unworkable as people don’t know where to opt out and
with who,” Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a privacy advocacy group, was quoted as saying.

Catlett reportedly wants the FTC to prohibit
profiling until new laws are enacted to limit use of consumers’ private

At many sites, however, opting out of data collection means opting out of
visiting the site. Just try turning cookies off on your browser for a day or

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