Posted by Hozaifa Y. Cassubhai

Web users may be better able to travel incognito online by the end of the year. 

AOL unveiled a new program last week that is designed to help webusers shield their online travels from advertisers. This technology would allow users to opt-out of online ads that are targeted to them based on their Web-surfing habits. The program aspires to “engender greater trust for targeted advertising by communicating with consumers in a more visible way, and by providing them more information about their choices,” stated Curt Viebranz, president of AOL’s ad platform.

To utilize the program, consumers would visit a Web site that will be linked to opt-out lists run by the largest advertisers.  By permitting users to insert their preferences using a Web cache technique, the program tolerates only those ads for products in which users have expressed an interest. Moreover, the program keeps the preferences in place even when consumers delete their cookies.

The new program comes at a time when consumer privacy groups are demanding increased regulatory oversight of online advertising. Groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Consumer Action recently sent a proposal to the Federal Trade Commission requesting that it oversee a mandatory “Do Not Track” registry that would ban companies from tracking online users for purposes of sending behaviorially-targeted ads. Relevant to that proposal, last week the FTC hosted a two-day town hall meeting entitled “Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology.”  There, representatives of companies including Facebook and Google, advocacy groups and trade organizations convened to discuss present-day and future issues surrounding digital consumer data.