The government has approved a plan by a group of Internet advertisers to help protect consumer privacy on the World Wide Web.
The plan, endorsed Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission, will control what information the advertisers can gather from Web surfers, and how they use that information.
The voluntary agreement covers members of the Network Advertising Initiative, a consortium including Internet advertising companies AdKnowledge, Adsmart, AdForce, DoubleClick, Engage Technologies, NetGravity and Real Media, the officials said.
One such advocate, Marc Rotenberg, says the deal doesn't give the government any remedy if companies don't follow the guidelines.
Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says his group is considering legal action to force the FTC to take stronger steps, asserting that the Internet advertisers' plan to protect on-line privacy is "written by industry for industry."
The agreement sets three major industry standards for the growing practice of online preference marketing and customer profiling. They said consumers will be:
- Allowed to opt out of the collection of anonymous data on the Internet 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;
- Allowed to give permission for the collection of personally identifying information at the time and place it is gathered on the Internet.
Privacy advocates fear the information could easily be transmitted to third parties without people's consent or misused.
The FTC two months ago pressed Congress for legislation requiring commercial Web sites to notify visitors of what information is collected about them and how it will be used; the option to choose whether information can be shared; and access to review information collected by a site and security of that information.
"Customer data collected under a privacy agreement should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder," the agency said in settling the matter.