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They may be watching but can you close the curtains?

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A clickable icon on all behavioural advertisements to find out (quickly and in plain language) what type of information an advertiser is collecting and using about you? Sounds too good to be true for us privacy enthusiasts but this intriguing concept was recently blogged about in the New York Times.

According to the blog’s author, Saul Hansell, the concept of a “privacy dashboard” was developed by Joe Turow, a marketing professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Turow has suggested that advertisers: “Put an icon on each ad that signifies that the ad collects or uses information about users.” You can click on the icon (Mr. Turow has suggested a “T?” for behavioural targeting) where the privacy dashboard would tell you what information was used to deliver that particular advertisement to you (such as your surfing habits) and allow you to edit any information or opt out of targeting completely. Score one for privacy principles!

This comes on the heels of Google’s recent announcement of its interest-based advertising system. The post points out that the “Ads by Google” link will only provide limited information about the targeting system and allow users to adjust some of the interest settings Google is tracking. Mr. Turow’s dashboard on the other hand, would explain exactly why you are seeing a particular ad and allow you to delete or modify the information advertiser used about you to serve that ad.

Behavioural targeting can be perceived by some as creepy and invasive – to have a simple tool where you can learn more about an advertiser’s data collection and usage practices and exert some control over what information they can and can’t use about you can allow those who feel stalked by the internet to close the curtains. Providing choice to the consumer will likely benefit advertisers over the long run as it could help mitigate potentially negative (and long-lasting) impressions that unwanted behavioural targeted advertising can create.

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