Key players in the European online advertising industry — including such heavyweights as Google and Microsoft — have signed a self-regulatory Framework intended to improve transparency and user control when behavioral ads are delivered by a third party (i.e., by a company that is not the operator of the website on which the ad is delivered).  Behavioral ads are based on profiles developed from a user’s web viewing activities across multiple websites.

Under the Framework, behavioral ads will display an icon that, when clicked, will enable users to obtain more information, manage data preferences, and opt-out of behavioral advertising altogether.  The signatory companies have committed to implementing the system by June 2012.

The Framework appears to be at least in part aimed at heading-off EU regulation.  Behavioral advertising is a controversial issue in Europe and some data protection advocates view such advertising as a threat to privacy.

The European Commission has helped facilitate the development of the Framework.  But the Framework has not received the official endorsement that the Commission gave to a self-regulatory system for RFID earlier this month (see our blog of April 6).  The Commission is expected to re-open the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) later this year, which would create an opportunity to propose regulatory measures.