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Online advertisers are hoping to head off federal regulation of behavioral targeting with new measures that protect users' privacy and inform them of when and where they are being tracked online.

A new bill being crafted in Congress is rumored to include a regulation that would force advertisers to use opt-in provisions when tracking users online. 

But web advertisers are trying to come up with measures that would adequately inform consumers of their tracking policies to avoid a blanket provision that could severely handicap the business of collecting user information and selling it to advertisers.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

"Among the measures is an icon that would appear either on Web pages or ads alerting consumers if their activity is being tracked. Clicking the icon would reveal information on the activities that a site collects about visitors, along with a list of companies that use this data, said an official at an ad trade group."

Trade groups like the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau to find a feasible solution to privacy concerns before regulation comes out.

In addition, the IAB is also looking into ways that it can enforces its guidelines without a federal group like the Federal Trade Organization stepping in.

"We think it's time to expand some self-regulation. We're still in the research phase.... We're looking to see if we should partner with a third party enforcement group," IAB VP of Public Policy Mike Zaneis tells ClickZ.

As audience targeting becomes a more lucrative business, the process of fine tuning behavioral targeting practices is becoming more and more delicate. According to the IAB, the ad-supported internet contributes $300 billion to the US economy and has created 3.1 million jobs.

Advertisers are trying hard to prove they are protecting users privacy while maintaining potential revenue sources, but federal regulators are still trying to deduce the extent to which privacy rights extend online. And it is unclear that any preemptive measures from advertisers will be able to ward off regulation from Congress.

Eileen Harrington, a deputy director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, tells the WSJ:

"The jury is out on whether or not self-regulation is going to achieve the desired state here, which is for consumers to receive clear notice that information is being collected and meaningful explanation of what that information is and what it is being used for."

Meghan Keane

Published 26 June, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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