Stephen Foley: Self-regulation is not enough for online ads


US Outlook: Coming soon to the websites you visit: a little "i" in a blue arrow.

This is the information button you'll be able to press to opt out of having adverts tailored to your specific interests, as divined from links you have clicked on around the web. Ad networks are following you and know enough to send you "relevant" ads – for gay cruises, perhaps, or right-wing political books. What's your secret?

The arrow is an invention of the US online ad industry lobby group, adopted this week by its European counterparts. Publishers and ad providers, from Google down, will start adding the button "in or around" all targeted ads. It is an attempt to ward off new laws.

Self-regulation is not enough. The technology behind the "i" button is not right; you must opt out over and over, from each different website or ad network. It is better that consumers use a "do not track" button on their browser, which ad networks are mandated to respect. Then maybe we can all finally get a little privacy.

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