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Online to Obama: We Can Police Ourselves

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NEW YORK  It's doubtful that -- between managing two wars and implementing a massive economic stimulus package -- behavioral targeting ranks high on President-elect Obama's first 100 days' to-do list.

Yet, with a new administration set to take charge this week, backed by a larger Democratic congressional majority, the online ad industry is swiftly moving to present itself to Washington as a business that can police itself.

Thus, when a coalition of the marketing world's largest trade groups formed last week to announce plans to develop a set of self-regulatory guidelines for behavioral targeting ads, the timing seemed deliberate, and the message clear: you don't need to handle this, we're on top of it.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Council of Better Business Bureaus, pledged to tackle privacy concerns over just how consumers' Web searching and surfing data is used by marketers. IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg said the timing of the announcement was coincidental, as planning for this coalition has been in the works ever since Google acquired DoubleClick back in 2007.

But consumer-advocacy groups charge that the coalitions' announcement was panic driven. "The industry's response was about dodging a regulatory bullet," said Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "They are very concerned that they'll lose self-regulation [as a tactic]. The industry blinked."

Rothenberg bristled at hearing Chester's comments, adding that groups like the CDD are "very paternalistic. They think that Americans are sheep and they need a protector."

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