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Advertisers, FTC Set Online Privacy Guidelines

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The Federal Trade Commission approved a plan developed by Internet advertisers to regulate what information they gather from Web surfers and how the advertisers use the data.

The FTC Thursday endorsed the self-regulatory plan submitted by a consortium of major Internet-advertising companies that are members of the online advertising trade group Network Advertising Initiative. Members include DoubleClick Inc. (DCLK), Engage Inc. (ENGA) and 24/7 Media Inc. (TFSM).

The plan sets three major principles for how such companies gather information anonymously from Web users and use it to profile customers. Though a self-regulatory agreement drafted by the industry, the plan marks a leap forward in the government's nascent battle to ensure electronic privacy. The FTC is still pressing for legislation to ensure that Web advertisers outside the group also follow the principles.

Under the plan, consumers will be allowed to opt out of the online collection of anonymous data for the purpose of profiling, given a chance to determine if they want to allow previously collected anonymous data to be merged with personally identifying information and allowed to give permission for the collection of such information at the time and place it is gathered on the Internet.

The agreement addresses consumer concerns about the growing usage by advertisers and Internet sites of technology that collects information about users as they visit Web pages. The technology allows firms to develop profiles of Web customers based on which pages they clicked on, what data they entered into forms and which ads they viewed.

Privacy advocates fear the information could easily be transmitted to third parties without people's consent or misused.

The FTC pressed Congress two months ago for legislation requiring commercial Web sites to notify visitors of what information is collected about them and how it will be used, to provide the option of whether information can be shared, to allow review of information collected by a site and to secure the information.

Last week, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) announced a major change to the newest version of its dominant Internet browser, unveiling a feature that will better alert consumers when Web sites attempt to implant "cookies," which can be used in some circumstances to track Web surfing by consumers.

The FTC earlier this month took the defunct Toysmart.com to court and forced the Walt Disney Co. unit to agree to abide by the site's privacy policies if the site's customer list is sold to a third party. Copyright (c) 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


unknown, ADWEEK. July 28, 2000

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