Future of Privacy Forum Announces Research Initiative To Develop Effective Messages to Communicate with Users about Online Data Use


WASHINGTON, May 19, 2009 – Today, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) announced a major research initiative that will examine different methods for communicating with users about online advertising and privacy practices.  The study will explore potential tools and notices that companies could use to raise consumer awareness regarding the use of online behavioral advertising data.  The research will also provide more transparency about how information is used in relevant advertising practices.

Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the organization, said today “FPF is dedicated
to promoting transparency in data practices that will enhance consumer trust and enable both privacy and personalization.  By engaging consumer communication experts we will seek to design and test different communication tools that help users effectively understand the key advertising practices in use today. “

The initiative follows a recent report issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which called on the industry to conduct research about the effects of possible disclosures on consumer understanding in the field of online behavioral advertising.

In support of the research project, FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour said today, “Most consumers do not fully understand the types and amount of information collected by businesses, or why the information may be commercially valuable.  To the extent that the industry currently attempts to provide notice and choice to consumers, such efforts are insufficient.  It is my hope that this research will help educate the industry and government about more effective ways to communicate with users and remove any confusion consumers may have about data use.”

Christopher Wolf, the other co-chair of FPF noted, “As progress is being made by government and trade groups to develop new rules and guidelines surrounding online behavioral advertising disclosures, our goal here is to help inform these groups and provide additional guidance about the most effective ways to communicate with users.”

Over the next several weeks, FPF will be working with creative experts and research specialists at WPP and others, to develop a variety of notices that will resonate with consumers and begin to test them with users.  Professor Mary Culnan from Bentley University will assist in these efforts.  The research will also incorporate input from the general public about effective ways to inform consumers of behavioral advertising practices.  The new research initiative is supported by a wide variety of industry players, including some of the organizations that already provide support to FPF.  In addition to Culnan and WPP, members of the working group include AOL, AT&T, eBay, Facebook, Intel, The Nielsen Company, TRUSTe, Verizon, and Yahoo.

Polonetsky stressed, “Privacy policies will continue to play an important role in legally binding companies to commitments and providing essential details regarding their data practices. Widespread agreement now exists, however, that more candid, prominent, and engaging methods are needed to ensure that trustworthy and meaningful communications are provided to users.”

FPF hopes to release materials from the initial phase of the research by the end of the summer.

What Others Are Saying About The FPF Research Initiative

“AOL has done research that showed consumers value diversity in how we communicate to them about privacy, and FPF’s new research will explore innovative ways of engaging and educating consumers.”
Doug Miller, Executive Director of Consumer Advocacy & Privacy, AOL

“When it comes to online data practices, transparency by all actors in the online ecosystem is needed to ensure that consumers are in control of their online experience.  We at AT&T are happy to see Polonetsky and Wolf at the Future of Privacy Forum embark on a research project that will hopefully provide more insight into how to effectively communicate consumer options and control online.”
Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer, AT&T

“TRUSTe has long guided our thousands of sealholders to make privacy notices more accessible – from advocating for layered notices to the ‘just-in-time’ choices for downloadable software.   TRUSTe is pleased to provide practical input to FPF on this new research initiative that we expect will contribute to our ongoing efforts to provide more trustworthy notices to consumers.”
Fran Maier, Chief Executive Officer, TRUSTe

“Yahoo! believes that offering customized experiences on our sites and our ad network provides real benefits to users.  Research into how best to communicate with consumers about these uses of data and their options is essential to engendering trust and ensuring a compelling online experience.”
Anne Toth, Vice President of Policy and Head of Privacy, Yahoo!

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC-based think tank that promotes transparency in data practices that are both practical for businesses and ensure personal autonomy for consumers. The forum is led by Internet privacy experts Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf and includes a robust advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups. FPF was launched in November 2008, and is supported by AOL, AT&T, eBay, Facebook, Intel, The Nielsen Company, TRUSTe, Verizon and Yahoo. FPF invites and welcomes the support of other companies committed to advancing privacy practices.