WAA Guidelines Affirm Double Opt-In for “Push” Ads

The industry self-policing Wireless Advertising Association this week released its recommended privacy guidelines, loosely based on the guidelines issued by its parent, the Internet Advertising Bureau, and other groups. But while the WAA’s voluntary rules do make sizable concessions to privacy advocates, they neglect to cover other important areas.

“At the dawn of the wireless era, it is vitally important for us to set a thoughtful tone for the business so that the concerns of all parties involved, especially consumers, are addressed,” said WAA chairman Tim DePriest, who is also vice president of ad network AdForce’s EveryWhere emerging media unit.

In addition to fairly standard “best practice” recommendations of full disclosure of how personal information is collected and how it will be used, the WAA’s guidelines specify that confirmed, or double opt-in should be the rule regarding the collection of personally identifiable information, and “pushed” ads.

“Push” sends ads to wireless users, typically by SMS, as opposed to wireless Web users downloading content with imbedded ads (otherwise known as “pull”). Double opt-in, a longtime goal of privacy advocates for the e-mail industry, stipulates that users must not only elect to receive ads, but must also okay this in a follow-up confirmation.

In addition to tabbing double opt-in as a best practice for the collection of personally identifiable information, the WAA voted allow wireless subscribers access to correct or delete their collected information, to ensure that personal information is accurate and secure, “where reasonable and appropriate.”

“These voluntary guidelines, adopted by WAA member companies, put them on record in favor of enabling wireless subscribers to control their personally identifiable information,” DePriest said.

But the WAA held off establishing guidelines for how location-based will be used, citing a need for further consultation with its carrier-based members, and other industry associations and government regulation on the issue.

The FCC recently mandated that wireless carriers make plans to adhere to Phase II of its E911 initiative, which specifies that carriers be able to locate mobile phone users within a range of about 50-300 meters. In addition to location information, Phase II also requires that carriers work out systems to detect users’ mobile numbers, ostensibly for 911 callbacks. The technology that makes this possible theoretically can also be used for location-based advertising, although companies have made few strides in that realm.

Several firms, like i3 Mobile, Sonata and WindWire, offer location-based targeting for ads served through wireless networks or pushed using a different method; these companies target their ads based on information the user enters through other applications, which might suggest their whereabouts — for instance, when a user requests ski conditions in Vail, Colorado.

WAA officials reiterated that the group would continue to work to respect users’ rights to privacy in hammering out location-based ad guidelines.

“We are committed to ensuring that the wireless industry operates in a climate of trust, allowing consumers to have confidence in the treatment of their privacy by carriers, advertisers, publishers, and others in the wireless arena,” DePriest said.

The WAA, which was founded in May 2000 through the merger of the IAB’s Wireless Ad Council and the Wireless Advertising Industry Association. The WAA said it would hold additional membership meetings this month to discuss guidelines, creative standards and metrics, in advance of public meetings in December.

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