Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL are among the Internet giants backing a new set of interactive advertising privacy guidelines for targeted online advertising services that track users’ browsing activities in an effort to identify individuals when they visit targeted ad-equipped sites and then serve each visitor ads the system deems of specific interest to them.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, custodian of the program, the privacy guidelines are, “designed to ensure users’ control over the use of personal information by interactive media and advertisers while at the same time guaranteeing continued improvement in the delivery of relevant marketing communications to consumers.”

“Research shows consumers value free Internet services highly and prefer advertising that is relevant to their interests, but want guarantees that their personally identifiable information won’t be misused,” Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the IAB said in a statement.

Among the chief provisions of the Good Practice Principles are requirements that online firms using targeted advertising systems inform visitors to their Web sites that their actions are being tracked and that visitors, once informed, be allowed to opt out of the tracking program.

“IAB’s principles are an important first step in the creation of stronger industry self regulatory programs,” said Dave Morgan, Executive Vice President, Global Advertising Strategy of AOL and Co-Chair of the Task Force that developed the principles. “We believe that all existing and future types of interactive advertising should fit within these criteria and we will move swiftly towards promulgating more granular best practices based on this document.”

Which, in English, means that the interactive advertising industry’s movers and shakers are dedicated to heading off potential regulatory or legal issues internally, before governments or the courts get involved in settling  actual disputes and start to exert external controls on what the Internet companies can and cannot do.

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