Privacy Issues Spur EU Scrutiny Over Behavioral Targeting; Facebook’s ‘Beacon’ Provokes Backlash

The European Union expects to bring its regulatory power to bear on online behavioral targeting practices next year, as protests over privacy concerns has begun to stir a potential backlash against recent marketing enhancements by social networks like Facebook. Reuters reported that the EU’s data protection commission, known as the Article 29 Working Party, is preparing to devote a great deal of time to the kinds of information websites maintain about their users. Late last month, the U.S. FTC also began discussions with the online ad industry about its problems with behavioral targeting.

The EU’s move comes as a storm of protest has erupted against new behavioral marketing initiatives from Facebook. The social net has found itself targeted by, a left-wing activist group that’s generally been focused on opposition to the war in Iraq, over Beacon, a feature of its SocialAds program. MoveOn charges that Beacon violates users’ privacy because Facebook members’ purchases made on the social net’s marketing partner sites are included in other members’ news feeds, reported. Facebook defends the Beacon by saying that the information is only open to members’ Facebook friends and members can opt-out of the program. So far, Reuters (NSDQ: RTRSY) noted that over 13,000 users have signed MoveOn’s petition against Beacon.

While advertisers and agencies initially greeted the expanded behavioral targeting methods being offered with great enthusiasm, some are now expressing fear of a backlash. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, I spoke with Tim Hanlon, EVP-ventures, for Publicis Groupe


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