A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
The ad industry's push to adopt more stringent codes around how it targets advertising to people online has been gaining wider acceptance.
A coalition of trade groups announced today that 100 companies have agreed to comply with a program to self-regulate their digital tracking practices. The roster of participating companies include major online advertisers AT&T, Verizon, Dell and Bank of America, as well as most of the major ad networks, including AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and ValueClick. Ad companies Cobalt, MiG and Omnicom Group are also listed as taking part in the effort.
Contradicting earlier reports that only a small number of advertisers had signed on, the coalition claimed that adoption of the program was increasing every month. "We are seeing tremendous interest from advertisers, ad agencies and ad networks," Peter Kosmala, managing director of the Digital Advertising Alliance, said in a statement. "Adoption of the DAA's Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising is currently growing at an average rate of 55 percent, month over month."
Online privacy has become a hot-button issue in Washington. At the urging of President Obama, prominent members of Congress have out together bills that would protect people's identity and behavior online. Sens. John Kerry and John McCain have recently introduced legislation to that effect; Sen. John Rockefeller put out a competing bill last month that insiders say was more of a parliamentary maneuver to attempt to claim the issue for the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is the chairman.
Urgency to self-regulate digital tracking has been heightened in light of this renewed government scrutiny. The Federal Trade Commission has actively pursued companies that have failed to offer consumers a clear choice in whether or not they want to continue to be monitored for the advertising purposes. In a recent interview, FTC head of consumer protection David Vladeck said the agency would be reviewing the self-regulatory program in the next three to four months.
When asked how he'll evaluate the industry's efforts, he said he would examine if people are clicking on the icon that serves notice to consumers they're being tracked, and if they're in fact opting out. "We want to see how it plays," he said. "This is all new. I want to give credit to the industry for moving forward on this, but there's no guarantee that it'll work."
So far, the DAA says 2 trillion ads have featured the opt-out icon since the program launched last November, based on reporting from the three vendors providing the icon, Evidon, Truste and DoubleVerify. But that number doesn't correlate with ComScore's figures, which say that only 1.99 trillion ads were served online in U.S. during the same period.
Despite the increased adoption of the icon, a significant portion of the largest advertisers have not yet signed into the program. Of the top 200 advertisers as measured by ComScore, 181 have not taken part in the industry effort, including the second largest online advertiser, Experien Interactive, which markets sites such as Free Credit Report and Price Grabber. Other big advertisers currently not participating include Progressive , Groupon, Netflix and Weight Watchers. It's not clear, however, how actively engaged these companies are in behavioral targeting.
Mr. Kosmala said more companies are looking to follow the program. He pointed out that at least 90 more companies have agreed to sign on but have yet to implement the icon. Of the advertisers that have yet to assent, he said they have concerns about whether they do a significant amount of behavioral targeting to merit ratifying the icon into their ads. "These are reasonable questions," he said. "But this is only getting started. You can expect this rate of adoption to increase."