CDD Memo to President-elect Obama’s FTC Transition team

My organization provided the FTC-transition team of President-elect Obama a brief memo on what the agency should do as it changes leadership. With a new majority, the FTC should be in the forefront of addressing how the financial and marketing system has evolved in ways which threaten our fiscal well-being and privacy, among many other concerns.  Here’s an excerpt:

The Federal Trade Commission has a potentially extraordinary role to play in the new Administration.  The agency should be engaged in developing and promoting policies that protect privacy, ensure consumer welfare, and stimulate economic development.  Unfortunately, in recent years the commission has largely failed to comprehend the threats to consumer privacy arising from the data collection-based online marketing system.  It ignored, for example, the role that data collection and behavioral targeting played in the marketing of subprime loans and other consumer financial products…
Under new leadership, the FTC should view its role as a champion of consumers…. in consumer protection, privacy, and online-related competition policy, the agency has failed to conduct the kind of serious inquiry that would enable it to make sophisticated recommendations or decisions.  It has not developed a 21st century framework that will protect consumers in the digital marketing “ecosystem.”  We saw this with behavioral advertising and privacy policy, protecting children and youth from marketing linked to the obesity crisis, and in the approval of the Google and DoubleClick merger, for example.
If the FTC is to help the country move forward during this crucial period of economic transition, it should:
•    Make Consumer Protection its highest priority
•    Recruit new staff for consumer protection with a background and commitment to consumer interests
•    Engage in a serious and ongoing analysis of the digital marketplace, with a focus on the impact of interactive advertising/behavioral targeting on financial products, health and medical services, product purchasing, and children and adolescents
•    Propose new policies to protect consumer privacy and welfare online…
•    Work with the FCC and state authorities to create a new Mobile Marketing, Consumer Protection, and Privacy Task Force (with annual reports to the public, and, where appropriate, new legislation recommended to Congress).

Behavorial Tracking a User of Search and Display: Hey, FTC. Better Tighten Up Those Proposed self-regulatory rules [Annals of Behavioral Targeting]

Online ad companies, such as Microsoft, have been developing ways of tracking a users journey online (“engagement mapping” of the digital marketing “conversion funnel”) so the share of ad dollars can be more properly apportioned (meaning, it’s not only the ad companies providing the “last-click” that receives all the credit).  We have long been troubled by the stealth tracking and commercial surveillance system being put in place.  Rich media online ad company Eyeblaster has developed a similar service.  Here’s an excerpt from a trade article.  After you read it, think about the FTC during an Obama Administration, and what we should expect it to do under a new majority:

“Eyeblaster has introduced Channel Connect for Search, a service that helps marketers track consumers who click on their display ads but do not transact immediately.

The service places a cookie on a user’s computer that remains on his or her desktop for 30 days. Eyeblaster customers can then identify those individuals when they later convert through search.

“It bridges the gap between display and search advertising,” said Thomas MciIheran, senior media manager with digital media agency Sicola Martin, which is based in Austin, TX. “It’s such valuable information, because there are clients who say display advertising isn’t working, and they think they should stop. This could be eye opening for them, because it shows that display is leading to search, and how much.” …The new service is “able to pinpoint crucial campaign data and draw important insights about the interaction of our search and display ads,” said Harry Case, director of media analytics and technology at Mindshare, in a written statement. “In the end, it provided us with a more comprehensive overview of user behavior.”

Ad Industry Lawyer Spins in Ad Age that Privacy Will Be on “Back Burner.” Not Only Incorrect–but self-serving

This week’s Advertising Age has a “Legal Issues to Watch in 2009” column.  Written by Douglas J. Wood of Reed Smith, it claims that: “PRIVACY TO THE BACK BURNER- Congress and regulators are in a Catch-22: While under constant pressure from constituents and consumerists to curtail the use of personal information or behavioral targeting, they recognize that advertising is the backbone of the internet. So while there will be occasional skirmishes, the war on privacy will continue in its stalemate. Regulators will also see browser makers offering more control to consumers to block ads and the collection of personal information as adequate progress.”

Mr. Wood, it turns out is “a member of Reed Smith’s Executive Committee and the firm’s Advertising Technology & Media Group…and is General Counsel to both the Association of National Advertisers and the Advertising Research Foundation.

Perhaps Mr. Wood is too busy to really follow Hill and FTC developments, because he is wrong.  There will be considerable activity on the Hill and elsewhere.   His column should have been labeled as written by the lawyer for the ad industry lobby group.  But it does reflect a lack of insight about the online ad industry’s problems related to privacy and consumer protection.

A Behavorial Targeting Example Shows Why Privacy Laws are Required, including a New and More Accurate Definition of Personally Identifiable Information

Interclick, “one of the largest advertising networks in the U.S., reported higher revenues today.  The company says that it collects “non-personally identifiable information (non-PII)” via cookies.  Here’s what Interclick considers, like other online advertisers, non-PII: “On the interCLICK network, we collect non-personally identifiable information (non-PII) such as web sites visited, content viewed, ad interaction, interaction with advertiser websites, IP addresses, search terms used, and other click and browsing behavior. Additionally, we may collect non-PII technical information including IP address, OS, browser type, language settings.

Meanwhile, Interclick’s behavioral targeting “option” for advertisers explains that its: “innovative behavioral targeting filters allow you to target the right individual users at the right time, increasing the effectiveness of your campaigns. With over 350 behavioral categories, interCLICK can get as precise as you want.

We segment users based on observed behaviors into 3 interest levels: slightly, moderately and very. Furthermore we use frequency and recency to classify these interest as short, mid, or long term interests. As the user navigates throughout our network of sites, we continually adjust their profile based on anonymous observations, assuring the accuracy of our profiles.” It offers “Behavioral Segmentswhich allows online advertisers to “Leverage interCLICK’s massive data warehouses to effectively target users who have been determined to exhibit certain behaviors throughout interCLICK’s network. interCLICK offers over 350 different Behavioral Targeting categories/sub-categories.”

Among the segments include financial services including “personal banking seekers, credit card seekers, retirement investing.”   There’s a segment targeting “college seekers,” raising issues related to youth marketing.  Another segment is on “health,” including categories targeting “Diet & Fitness Enthusiasts.”

InterClick is just of many ad networks engaged in such data collection and targeting.  But it illustrates why the online ad industry must be regulated, to protect consumer privacy and welfare.

The “Revised” Network Advertising Initiative Principles: Ghost-written by Bernard Madoff?

That was really what we felt reading the “NAI Response to Public Comments” released yesterday.  It accompanied the 2008 principles announcement by the self-regulatory trade online marketing trade group.  The “response” is worth reading, because it really reveals the inability of the group to meaningfully address how to protect consumers online.  You would think that an organization which has Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Time Warner and many others as paying members could at least clearly state what happens to our data in the online marketing process.  But the real goal of the NAI is to prevent the enactment of serious state and federal privacy policies that would protect consumers. My group put out a statement yesterday discussing the new principles.

The credibility of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Time Warner are at stake.  They should be able to ensure that their own organization can honestly address the implications of online advertising.  But it’s time to abandon any call for self-regulation.  That has been a failure.  It’s clear that a growing number of consumer and privacy groups are calling for a legislative solution, as well as a more effective FTC.  Responsible online ad companies will support such regulation.

Google and Network Neutrality: Make Your “Open Edge” Proposals to the Telcos and Cable Companies Public

If the documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal provide Google with “a fast lane for its own content,” critical questions are raised about its commitment to meaningful network neutrality.  The Google policy blog post suggests that the Journal misunderstood the meaning of the alleged negotiation documents.  What Google wants, they claim, is to develop an effective caching arrangement.  But there are legitimate critical questions that should be raised about the ultimate effect of a contractual deal which places  “servers directly within the network of the service providers.”

We believe Google is seeking this arrangement to ensure that its advertiser-based services, including so-called rich media applications, You Tube branded ads, and multi-media universal search applications, have priority.  We think the future of the democratic potential of the Internet is undermined when those with deep pockets can favor their content over others.  In essence, Google’s Fortune 1000 client base will get to jump to the head of the queue before non-profit, small business and civic applications.  We recognize that many applications use similar strategies.  But all this needs to to be fully publicly debated, especially given the incoming Obama Administration’s support for network neutrality and its own political connections with Google.

That’s why Google should make immediately public the proposals made to phone and cable companies.  Let’s thoughtfully review what they are asking for, understand the context, and engage in the necessary public discussion. Google needs to be forthcoming on this.

Google’s Doubleclick Using Widgets to “give advertisers the ability to tap into the incredible power of potential brand evangelists”

Google’s Doubleclick division is working with social media and widget advertising company Gigya so marketers can “integrate a viral component into any campaign to allow consumers to “snag” or “grab” the ad onto their personal homepage or social network page.” We think the Doubleclick release is very revealing. So here are some choice excerpt excerpts:

“Widgets are part of a fundamental change within the online marketing arena,” said Ari Paparo, vice president of advertiser products for DoubleClick. “Widget Ads provide audiences with the ability for self-expression and identification with well-loved brands while providing marketers the benefits of virality and engagement along with the measurability of traditional online channels.”…

“Incorporating viral functionality helps give advertisers the ability to tap into the incredible power of potential brand evangelists,” said Ben Pashman, vice president of business development with Gigya,…enabling great creative to enter a user’s social circle, where it may become an even more powerful, user-endorsed ad unit.”

Widget Ads may be distributed in a multitude of ways including branded websites, word-of-mouth outreach and even through another rich media ad… integration with the industry-standard DART platform allows for valuable Widget Ad metrics including impressions, interactions, video metrics, viral “grabs” for different social networks, and reach and frequency…”

Statement on FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act legal action against Sony/Additional Privacy Policies are Required

Statement of Dr. Kathryn C. Montgomery, who led the campaign for the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), commenting on the FTC children’s privacy lawsuit announced today against Sony BMG Music Entertainment

I applaud the FTC’s actions to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The government’s lawsuit against SONY sends a strong signal to the online industry that this law must be taken seriously. COPPA was designed to protect children under the age of 13 from unfair data collection and manipulation by online marketers. Congress passed the law ten years ago to establish a clear set of safeguards and principles that were built into the foundation of the emerging digital marketplace. However, in recent years, online data collection has become increasingly sophisticated, expanding into a variety of new platforms — from social networks to mobile phones to interactive games — that are now central tools in young peoples’ their lives. In the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama, both the FTC and Congress must support additional policies that will extend COPPA’s mandate and create privacy protections for all children under the age of 18.

Kathryn C. Montgomery, Ph.D, is Professor of Communication at American University in Washington, DC.

No so sweet on Privacy—a new “Behavioral Targeting Suite” [Behavioral Targeting Watch]

excerpt from Valueclick press release: “Mediaplex, today announced the release of its Dynamic Behavioral Targeting suite…to cost-effectively achieve true one-to-one messaging… Dynamic Behavioral Targeting – Enables advertisers to differentiate and segment qualified customers from prospects based on their prior activity, and serve the most appropriate message using dynamic, real-time creative. This means advertisers can truly deliver the most relevant offer at the right time, in real time… Dynamic Reporting… This level of reporting detail gives advertisers ROI metrics down to each individual offer, giving the advertiser the right level of data insights they need to make informed decisions regarding best performing creatives and offers.

source: Mediaplex Releases Dynamic Behavioral Targeting Suite:
Product Advancements Enable 1-1 Messaging, Eliminate Wasted Marketing Dollars and Improve Campaign Performance [press release]. Dec. 10, 2008

Vint Cerf, “Chief Internet Evangelist,” Touts Google’s Brand Building Potential

Everyone, it appears, is expected to help Google sell its advertising and brand-building services to new clients. Even when they have the title as a “father” of the Internet. See this video interview of Vint Cerf from a May 2008 event in Singapore. It illuminates a number of Google’s advertising and marketing strategies, including using the power of social media to “virally” promote brands. Here’s a transcript:

“Ogilvy Insights: How can brands tap into the social media phenomenon? An Ogilvy interview with Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s VP & Chief Internet Evangelist. Thursday 22 May, 2008 – Singapore.

Vinton G. Cerf: “Ok, so here’s an interesting phenomenon: We know that you don’t read every book that’s published, you don’t see every movie that’s produced, you don’t watch every television program and every radio program. Something is helping you decide what to look at, what to read.

Part of that something, we’ll call advertising information. And I want to make sure that we recognize that this is information. We call it advertising when we’re not interested in it. When we’re interested in it, it’s information. What Google wants to do is to make sure that the information that you get, that comes from advertising sources, is interesting to you, not disinteresting.

And so let’s think now as a brand; the brand thinker says “well, I need to get in front of as many people as possible so they are aware of my existence and why my products and services should be attractive to them. But the way people filter their interests is to listen to what other people have to say – their friends, their families, their teachers and so on. So we need to take advantage of that filtering mechanism. One way to do that is to make sure that those people whose opinion you listen to, that tell you what movies to watch, what books to read or what products to buy, know about my brand. Now, how to I go about doing that? Well one way is to do the traditional way of somehow plastering your logo up everywhere you possibly can, but that’s a shock dam… (not sure what he says here)

The more interesting this to do is to get your brand in front of someone who has some authority and interest in the products and services associated with that brand, so that person now becomes an anchor and whose opinion now counts in his or her circle of friends. So we now need to identify which people are the opinion makers in these various social groupings.

How can we do that? Well, Google in a way has a tool which helps us do that. Because the way we present advertising information is to put it up only if we think it is really of interest to that party. And in fact the thing that makes our advertising mechanism so valuable is that we are pretty good at getting an ad that someone will click on in front of that person. Their interest level is indicated by the fact that they clicked on the ad. I’m not gonna click on an ad I’m not interested in, that’s advertising. If I click on it, it’s information. So we have a built in filter to find the people who are interested in this particular brand or in the products associated with it.

So now what we need to do is to help the person who clicked on that ad, become an opinion maker. And one way to do that is to say; “Well, that if that person is part of a social network, then the fact that they clicked on the ad gives me an opportunity to give them a tool for making their interest in my brand known to their friends”. So when you look at OpenSocial, you discover mechanisms in there that allow people to tell their friends or draw attention to their friends to things that they have seen that they think their friends would be interested in. So the more that we can facilitate that communication, the more powerful this particular method of spreading knowledge of brands is gonna be.”