Can you have industry self-regulation if one of the biggest players isn't following the guidelines?
That's the challenge for online advertising in the face of mounting privacy concerns, and the source is one of the web's biggest ad sellers: Facebook.
The social-media giant is running behaviorally targeted ads on its site that don't include the little triangular icons that are the public face of the industry's push to be more transparent about targeting.
The so-called Ad Options icon was created by the Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of ad trade groups, in part to prove to the government that the industry could be proactive about giving consumers information about the kind of data that advertisers and ad-related firms are collecting to tailor and target ad messages. But without the involvement of Facebook -- by far the No. 1 publisher of display ads in the U.S. -- the self-regulatory program will continue to sport a gaping hole.
"Facebook's failure to participate in self-regulation makes the entire initiative very easy to criticize," said Jim Brock, founder of PrivacyChoice, a provider of privacy data and tools. "Lots of folks on Capitol Hill love beating up on Facebook, because Facebook has inspired privacy fear in a lot of users. They do not do the program a favor by stepping outside of it."
Facebook declined to make an executive available for interview, but issued a statement: "Facebook is a strong supporter of transparency and control in the online ecosystem, and we are participating in discussions with many stakeholders, including through the DAA and the U.S. Department of Commerce, about how we as an industry can best empower users to understand and make choices about the ads they see."
Users can generally opt out through the DAA's icon in two or three steps, but on Facebook, they might need to take at least four actions to opt out of behavioral targeting: hover over an ad so a small "x" appears in corner; click on the "x"; click on the "About this ad" tab; and then opt out if the ad-buying company's page they are taken to offers the option.