New Tool Will Help Online Advertisers Develop Stronger Privacy Practices

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WASHINGTON — The Center for Democracy & Technology today unveiled a new assessment tool to help online advertising companies develop strong, appropriate privacy protections for the users they serve. Released to coincide with Data Privacy Day 2009, the new document reflects input from a broad cross-section of industry and the public interest community.

The “Threshold Analysis for Online Advertising Practices,” is the result of extensive consultation among CDT, Internet companies and public interest advocates. It notes a series of simple tests companies can use to determine whether their online advertising activities may trigger the need for additional privacy protections. The document also provides suggestions on how companies can begin putting those protections in place.

“Online advertising companies hold the key to protecting Internet users against significant privacy abuses,” said Alissa Cooper, chief computer scientist for CDT. “Effective self-regulation by these companies is critical to turning the tide in favor of an online environment that protects consumers and supports fair information practices.”

The Threshold document identifies a comprehensive list of online advertising behaviors and attributes. Companies are prompted to determine where their practices and advertising offerings fall within the larger continuum. While all online advertising practices trigger privacy considerations, certain practices — like collecting identifiable customer data — require more rigorous protections than others.

Companies can use the Threshold document internally to figure out whether a particular advertising offering requires increased privacy considerations. CDT recommends that companies apply the Threshold test as a precursor to doing a full-fledged privacy impact assessment.

CDT Vice President Ari Schwartz said it is important for the privacy community to work with online advertising companies to help them improve their practices.

“The fastest way to improve the privacy landscape for Internet users is to convince online advertisers to adopt meaningful, tailored privacy protections based on their practices,” Schwartz said. “While vigorous self-regulation cannot, and should not, be considered an alternative to meaningful federal privacy legislation, it can go a long way toward protecting consumers.”

The Threshold report can be found online here: http://www.cdt.org/privacy/20090128threshold.pdf

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