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Keep public onside amid opt-out countdown

In about six months, roughly when Britain takes delivery of the Olympic Flame, advertisers and online businesses are expected to be in the home straight of the rather more mundane European import of online privacy regulation.

Daniel Farey-Jones: Data and Direct bulletin editor

Daniel Farey-Jones: Data and Direct bulletin editor

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We’re at the halfway point in a regulation race started by the UK government implementing the revised European ePrivacy directive in May this year and finishing with the May 2012 deadline after which the UK data watchdog said it would be enforcing the law.

Ed Vaizey, the minister who granted the industry extra time to address the complexities of the new rules of obtaining consent for installing cookies, was upbeat at the IAB’s annual conference last week but admitted "we are not there yet".

It’s less a straight race everyone’s in, judging by his speech, than a cross between a relay and an obstacle course – the word ‘challenge’ frequently cropped up.

He is urging various players – advertisers, publishers, browser developers and consumer groups – to work together to get UK business through the hoops of the directive still holding the baton of public trust.

"The Internet is based on trust," he told the conference. "People give companies their data because they trust that those companies will not abuse or misuse that data and it is essential that people do not lose that trust in the future."

There was a solid endorsement of the IAB’s progress with the Online Behaviourial Advertising framework, described as "a fantastic example of the willingness of industry to work together to find solutions which suit both business and users".

The framework is needed, he suggested, so that "users should not feel stalked around the web by companies wishing to sell them something".

The comment echoes the complaint made by a lady in the audience at an industry gathering I was at last week, that a John Lewis sofa was following her around the internet, and research Decipher conducted among internet users in April.

Is it intrusiveness or more annoyance at the repetition that is the problem here? I think it’s more the latter but it doesn’t make it any less of a concern for the industry.

Admittedly frequency capping is increasingly being employed. But public consciousness of ‘being stalked’ will grow as more people come online, more people shop online and more advertisers start using retargeting.

It’s not outlandish to expect a ‘Panorama’ special to come down the track – the direct mail side of the industry has already had the trial by TV experience, as the DMA can testify.

A mass media backlash against over-zealous ad serving might also darken the public mood about the use of personal data online, just as greater power to opt out comes into people’s hands as a result of the technical solutions being developed.

And if people are concerned enough, the quickest and simplest way to kick back against ‘Big Brother’ could be the ‘Do Not Track’ option.

Do Not Track’s evolution brings its own deadlines - EU commissioner Neelie Kroes wants industry-wide agreement on a ‘Do Not Track’ standard by June 2012. Can the industry manage this Olympian feat of co-ordination?

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