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29 April 2008, 11:42

Anti-Spyware Coalition examines practices for personalised advertising

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The Anti-Spyware Coalition hasset up a working group to examine the new practices of advertisers who use customer behaviour monitoring to target customers with personalised advertising via their internet providers. Based on its findings, the working group is to present suggestions on how to avoid these practices.

Advertising company Phorm has come under pressure after it emerged that the company allegedly carried out secret tests with UK internet provider BT (formerly British Telecom). The bone of contention is the opt-out system planned by the advertiser, which requires customers to take action if they want to avoid having their personal information monitored, stored and analysed. Data protection activists are in favour of the opt-in system which requires users to give their permission and is known to attract far less customers.

The Anti-Spyware Coalition perceives the existing practice in which customers receive little or no warning as a grey area. The working group was established to investigate this subject in detail and clarify, for example, what to do with the data such as cookies that advertisers create on users' computers.

In some cases, anti-spyware tools already flag the ad server cookies created by companies like Phorm, NebuAd or the advertising partners of Front Porch. The question is how users are to be warned about these cookies. Ari Schwartz, Vice President of the Center for Democracy and Technology said to the UK media: "We need to go into detail on how the consent factors work here. Does someone clearly know they're being tracked or not? We must determine what level of risk is tied to these things."

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