A little ‘i’ to teach about online privacy

Trying to ward off federal regulators, the advertising industry has agreed on a standard icon—a little “i”—that it will add to most online ads that use demographics and behavioral data to tell consumers what is happening, reports the New York Times. Most major companies running online ads are expected to begin adding the icon to their ads by midsummer, along with phrases such as “Why did I get this ad?” When consumers click on the icon, a white “i” surrounded by a circle on a blue background, they will be taken to a page explaining how the advertiser uses their web-surfing history and demographic profile to send them certain ads. The symbol will be introduced Jan. 27 by the Future of Privacy Forum, an advocacy group that helped create it, and a coalition of trade groups that have been vocal about fending off government regulation. It comes amid a fierce debate about privacy. Congress has shown interest in the subject (see “Congress weighs online privacy changes”), and the Federal Trade Commission says the privacy policies of companies are not clear or accessible enough to protect web surfers. Maneesha Mithal, associate director for the FTC’s division of privacy and identity protection, said it was “too early to tell” whether the icon and phrases would work with consumers. “We support industry efforts to develop a consistent symbol and message that would help educate consumers about online advertising,” Mithal said. “We hope they will share data, such as click-through and opt-out rates, that will inform the debate.”

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