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Consumer Advocates Urge U.S. and Europe To Reject Privacy Self Regulation Consumer Advocates Urge U.S. and Europe To Reject Privacy Self Regulat...

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Congress

Consumer Advocates Urge U.S. and Europe To Reject Privacy Self Regulation

September 8, 2011

Consumer advocates are calling on European and U.S. regulators to reject the online advertising industry's new self-regulatory program, saying the effort does not protect privacy well enough.

The online advertising industry's self-regulatory program "fails to effectively address contemporary digital data collection practices used to profile an online user", the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue said in a letter sent Thursday to the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union's privacy working group.

The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue is made up of nearly 180 European and U.S. consumer groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Economic Frontier Foundation and Consumers Union, which have been pushing Congress to pass stronger privacy legistlation.

The groups are taking aim at the self-regulatory program rolled out last fall and currently being implemented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other marketing and advertising groups. The effort centers around an icon on websites that consumers can click to opt out of online behavioral advertising, which targets ads to consumers based on their interests. Online companies gauge users' interests by tracking their Web surfing habits.

IAB Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mike Zaneis told Tech Daily Dose last week that online advertisers have developed an effective program that gives consumers notice and choice and proves there is "little to no need for federal legislation." His group's members were required by last week to be in compliance with the program.

But the consumer groups argued in their letter that the icon program is weak and fails to inform consumers that they will continue to be tracked and profiled by advertisers even if they choose not to have ads targeted at them.

Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester said despite the program's flaws, online advertisers have "come up with a powerful political tool in this tiny icon that at the moment is repelling the call for privacy regulation and legislation."

The European Union is revising its privacy law, which bars the transfer of personal data about EU citizens to countries that do not have "adequate" privacy protections. At the same time, EU and U.S. officials are trying to come up with a similar approach to commercial online privacy protection. Advertisers are pushing the EU to embrace self regulation and bring its laws closer in line with the U.S. approach, Chester said.

Chester said the consumers groups hope their letter "will stiffen the resolve of the EU to reject" calls for self-regulation and force the United States to adopt a stronger approach to protecting consumer privacy.

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