Statement of Jeff Chester, Exec. Director, Center for Digital Democracy:
The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to serve as the nationâ€™s leading consumer protection agency.Â But for too long it has buried its mandate in the `digitalâ€™ sand, as far as ensuring U.S. consumer privacy is protected online.Â Â Â The commission embraced a narrow intellectual framework as it examined online marketing and data collection for this proceeding.Â Since 2001, the Bush FTC has made industry self-regulation for privacy and online marketing the only acceptable approach when considering any policy safeguards (although the Clinton FTC was also inadequate in this regard as well).Â Consequently, FTC staffâ€”placed in a sort of intellectual straitjacketâ€”was hampered in their efforts to propose meaningful safeguards.
Advertisers and marketers have developed an array of sophisticated and ever-evolving data collection and profiling applications, honed from the latest developments in such fields as semantics, artificial intelligence, auction theory, social network analysis, data-mining, and statistical modeling.Â Unknown to many members of the public, a vast commercial surveillance system is at the core of most search engines, online video channels, videogames, mobile services and social networks.Â We are being digitally shadowed across the online medium, our actions monitored and analyzed.
Behavioral targeting (BT), the online marketing technique that analyzes how an individual user acts online so they can be sent more precise marketing messages, is just one tool in the interactive advertisersâ€™ arsenal.Â Today, we are witnessing a dramatic growth in the capabilities of marketers to track and assess our activities and communication habits on the Internet.Â Social media monitoring, so-called â€œrich-mediaâ€ immersive marketing, new forms of viral and virtual advertising and product placement, and a renewed interest (and growing investment in) neuromarketing, all contribute to the panoply of approaches that also includes BT.Â Behavioral targeting itself has also grown more complex.Â That modest little â€œcookieâ€ data file on our browsers, which created the potential for behavioral ads, now permits a more diverse set of approaches for delivering targeted advertising.
We donâ€™t believe that the FTC has sufficiently analyzed the current state of interactive marketing and data collection.Â Otherwise, it would have been able to articulate a better definition of behavioral targeting that would illustrate why legislative safeguards are now required.Â It should have not exempted â€œFirst Partyâ€ sites from the Principles; users need to know and approve what kinds of data collection for targeting are being done at that specific online location.
The commission should have created specific policies for so-called sensitive data, especially in the financial, health, and children/adolescent area.Â By urging a conversation between industry and consumer groups to â€œdevelop more specific standards,â€ the commission has effectively and needlessly delayed the enactment of meaningful safeguards.
On the positive side, the FTC has finally recognized that given todayâ€™s contemporary marketing practices, the distinction between so-called personally identifiable information (PII) and non-PII is no longer relevant.Â The commission is finally catching up with the work of the Article 29 Working Party in the EU (the organization of privacy commissioners from member states), which has made significant advances in this area.
We acknowledge that many on the FTC staff worked diligently to develop these principles.Â We personally thank them for their commitment to the public interest.Â Both Commissioners Leibowitz and Harbour played especially critical roles by supporting a serious examination of these issues.Â We urge everyone to review their separate statements issued today.Â Todayâ€™s release of the privacy principles continues the conversation.Â But meaningful action is required.Â We cannot leave the American publicâ€”now pressed by all manner of financial and other pressuresâ€”to remain vulnerable to the data collection and targeting lures of interactive marketing.