The number of ad networks complying with the Network Advertising Initiative's strict online privacy code nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011, according to NAI's annual report.
The report covers the ad networks that account for the vast majority of online behavioral ads. Per the code, the 60 nets included in NAI's mandatory 2011 audit such as AOL Advertising, Google, Microsoft Advertising and Yahoo did not collect personally identifiable information for online behavioral targeted advertising. Controls are also in place to make sure OBA is not used for other nefarious purposes, like insurance probes or employment queries.
With more ad networks stepping up to the privacy plate, more consumers are aware they can opt out of interest-based ads, the report found. Visits to the NAI's website last year were up 200 percent increase over 2010 to 8.5 million. Six million clicked on the big red button to access the opt-out page, and 14 percent submitted opt-out requests.
The report is also serving as a coming-out party for Marc Groman, a former government privacy heavyweight, who became the NAI's executive director two months ago. As the former chief privacy officer for the Federal Trade Commission, Groman knows a thing or two about what the government will look for when it considers whether self-regulation is enough to protect consumers' interests or if it should advocate new laws.
"I think they will be pleased," Groman predicted. "Every FTC chairman that has discussed self-regulation has said that it must have teeth, accountability and transparency. What they are looking for is what we're delivering. This report is not just a statement of best practices; we enforce it."
While Groman acknowledges the industry's strong report card so far, he has big plans to expand NAI's self-regulatory program and its participation in the Digital Advertising Alliance's in-ad notice  privacy icon.
More than 80 ad networks will be included in the NAI audit next year. The NAI, at Groman's behest, will also increase the size of its compliance team, expand the technical compliance monitoring program, update the NAI's code to reflect changes in the business, technology and policy developments, and update the website to make it more consumer friendly.
"During my very long interview process, I explained that I believe in self-regulation, but only if it has teeth. I made it crystal clear that if they were looking for 'privacy window dressing,' they should not hire me," Groman said.