NEWS20 August 2009

OFT considers probe of behavioural targeting

Government UK

UK— The Office of Fair Trading is considering whether to investigate behavioural targeting practices in a study into how consumers are affected by misleading online adverts and pricing.

The government watchdog is currently looking for feedback about the remit of the forthcoming Advertising and Pricing Market Study. The OFT said the study “may also look at the use of personal information in advertising and pricing – in particular, where information from a consumer’s online activity is used to target the internet advertising he or she receives.”

The study is set to begin in the autumn and the OFT has set a deadline of mid-September to submit comments about what should be covered.

Heather Clayton, senior director of the OFT’s consumer market group, said: “Before starting our study, we want to understand from consumer groups, businesses and other organisations which areas they think we should focus on.”

Behavioural targeting has been in the spotlight since internet provider BT secretly trialled Phorm’s technology, which tracks the websites a user visits to match them with more appropriate advertising. There was an immediate backlash from privacy advocates and from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who criticised what he called online “snooping”.

UK ISPs BT, Virgin Media and Talk Talk were in talks with Phorm about introducing its technology. BT and Talk Talk have since backed away from doing so, while Virgin says it is still considering its options – leaving Phorm to concentrate on overseas opportunities, most notably in Korea.