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FTC Official Watching How Far Industry Willing To Go On Privacy FTC Official Watching How Far Industry Willing To Go On Privacy

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FTC Official Watching How Far Industry Willing To Go On Privacy

While regulators recently praised the advertising industry’s movement on the issue of giving consumers more control over their data, there is continuing debate over what exactly the industry has agreed to do.

When the Obama administration released its long-awaited policy proposals on consumer privacy last month, it also made a point of praising an industry self-regulatory program launched by the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of ad networks and media companies. At the event, the alliance announced with much fanfare that it would honor requests consumers make through their Internet browsers about targeted online ads.


At the annual International Association of Privacy Professionals conference Thursday, Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill said while she welcomed the industry’s movement on the issue, she said she would be watching closely to see how the industry’s pledge is implemented. She wants more clarity on whether the alliance is pledging not to collect information about consumers or whether it is only agreeing not to target some ads to consumers.

In a draft privacy report released in 2010, the FTC said people should get a choice about whether they want to be tracked while browsing the Internet. “It’s very important that a do-not-track mechanism addresses collection as well as use,” Brill said.

Stu Ingis, the Digital Advertising Alliance’s general counsel, said the industry has made clear to the commission and to administration officials what it has agreed to. He said the alliance has pledged to honor consumers' choices about whether they want information collected and used to develop targeted third-party ads. Ingis said the group has begun working with web browser makers on a common standard that would signal to websites that consumers don’t want to be tracked for these purposes. But he also noted that the alliance believes tracking should be allowed for fraud protection, website operation and also for marketing and product development.


Commerce Department General Counsel Cameron Kerry, who played a key role in helping to develop the administration’s privacy policy, talked in more detail about how the department would be implementing its privacy proposals. The administration wants Congress to enact a privacy bill of rights for consumers. But it put almost as much emphasis on working with industry and others to develop voluntary codes of conduct.

As privacy legislation is unlikely this year, Kerry was asked why industry would agree to sign on to the voluntary codes of conduct, particularly since firms would be opening themselves to enforcement from the FTC if they fail to live up to their promises. Kerry said many industry players told the administration that they want some clear guidelines or “rules of the road.” In addition, companies that sign on to such codes would be helping to build trust with consumers, he added.

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