"We don't view advertising on the Internet any differently than other types of advertising," said NAD Director Deborah Goldstein. "Because this is part of our ongoing mandate with the industry, we will follow advertising wherever it goes."
Starting this summer, NAD will set up several computers that will be trained on commercial online services, the Internet's World Wide Web multimedia arm and the thousands of Internet newsgroups. Just as it does in traditional media, NAD will target advertisers that make deceptive or false claims about their products or services.
The call to monitor marketing on the Internet and online services has grown louder in the past few months, as evidenced by a recent FTC conference on consumer protection on online services. But most interactive service providers have resisted letting the government step in, and that's where NAD thinks it has an advantage.
"In the 3,200 cases we've had since 1971, less than 3% have been forwarded to the FTC," said Ms. Goldstein. "Only if we cannot reach voluntary agreement will we send them on to the FTC."
`I am recommending that NAD be one of the regulatory groups to check into the truthfulness of advertising on the Internet," said American Advertising Federation President Wally Snyder. "NAD will be better than the government at regulating the Internet because they can offer a service that is quicker, less costly and voluntary."
NAD's efforts could be complicated by the huge amount of online advertising, ranging from the ubiquitous strip ads on Prodigy to Web home pages to solicitations posted on bulletin boards and newsgroups.
To widen its scope of coverage, NAD plans to ask online services to give it pro-bono access to their networks and the Internet. NAD will also rely on complaints from consumers and competitors who may contact the organization via regular mail, e-mail or the Better Business Bureau's site on the Web (http://www.cbbb.org/cbbb).
For now, the FTC is willing to let entities like NAD take the lead in monitoring advertising in cyberspace.
"My position is: Let's wait and see what develops out of self-regulation," said FTC Commissioner Christine A. Varney. Among the FTC's planned initiatives: creating a Web home page and hosting online conferences and discussion groups on interactive advertising.
The Web site likely will allow consumers to send in complaints and read press releases and FTC meeting transcripts.
Ms. Goldstein hopes to join the FTC in its educational programs.
"I envision an educational co-venture with the FTC that will alert people about what the law is and will show them that finding truth in advertising on the Internet is no different than the current procedures found in other mediums," she said.