U.K. Gov Favors Online Ad Industry Self-Regulation

Speaking at this week's IAB U.K. conference in London, Andy Burnham, the U.K. secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said he was in favor of the online ad industry self-regulation, specifically in relation to behavioral targeting.

And it appears the industry could be getting serious about self-regulation, too. The IAB U.K. is in discussions with major behavioral targeting players such as Revenue Science, Phorm, and NebuAd, the IAB U.K.'s Head of Regulatory Affairs Nick Stringer told ClickZ News. The IAB U.K. hopes to launch a behavioral targeting resource by the end of the year, according to Stringer.

Burnham admitted the Internet and the area of online advertising is a challenge for the government. "Moving into the digital age, we can negotiate what is important, and what kind of intervention is appropriate. Not government, media needs to be self-governing."

He also referred directly to recent privacy and regulatory issues that have surrounded targeted online advertising, stating, "I can see benefits of advertising that is targeted, but I also feel that informed consent has to be present. It should be presented as opt-in, not opt-out."

Burnham said he will now seek to establish societal norms, standards, and solutions with broad acceptance in relation to the issue. "We'll get there in a self-regulatory way if we work together with ISPs, advertisers, and content owners. This is a debate we should have together," he added.

In September, the U.K. government concluded an inspection of the legality of Phorm's ISP-based ad-targeting technology, in response to concerns raised by the European Union. The U.K.'s Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform (BERR) stated it believed London-based Phorm's targeting technology could be implemented legally, appropriately, and transparently in the U.K.

"After conducting its enquiries with Phorm, the U.K. authorities consider that Phorm's products are capable of being operated in [a legal manner]," the statement read, if users are "presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise a choice about whether to be involved."

In July, E.U. Information Commissioner, Viviane Reding, requested information and clarification on Phorm's practices from the BERR.

Later in September, Phorm announced it would begin trials of its technology with U.K. ISP British Telecom, following months of delays. Further tests with other U.K. ISPs, including the Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media were intended to follow BT's trials.

ISP-based behavioral ad targeting practices have also been scrutinized in the U.S. by government entities and privacy advocates. At a recent Senate committee hearing, representatives from ISPs ensured lawmakers of their commitment to self-regulate consumer privacy requirements if they decide to enable behavioral ad targeting.

The IAB in the U.S. has said little publicly in regards to ISP-based behavioral targeting, but it has indicated the need for more stringent industry self-regulation. IAB VP Public Policy Mike Zaneis told ClickZ News in September the trade group had plans to establish data security and disclosure-related enforcement capabilities alongside other parties in the near future.

Kate Kaye contributed to this article.

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