CDT’s Privacy “Report”—Full Disclosure is Missing

CDT has long been an ally of the various data collection companies it purports to oversee on behalf of consumers. It’s funded by a number of them. In fact Microsoft’s Bill Gates helped raise money for the group just last March.

The report released today fails to address the wide-ranging privacy threat coming from the major search engines and their advertising clients. It fails to acknowledge that it’s only because of policy-related pressure from privacy advocates—including the FTC complaint filed last November by my Center for Digital Democracy and US PIRG—that there have been modest corporate changes. [As well as the work of these two groups and EPIC in the case of Google’s proposed merger with Doubleclick, and the role of European Commission authorities]. CDT’s report also fails to acknowledge that it’s because of the unprecedented series of mergers in the data collection sector over the last few months, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL [$33.4 billion in the first half of 2007 alone, according to Ad Age. sub may be required.] —and the subsequent US and international regulatory scrutiny—that has created the “pressure” to bring about a few modest changes in data collection and retention practices. Without real advocates pressing—and regulators taking up their demands—we would have no changes at all (as minimal as they are). The marketplace’s approach isn’t protecting consumers.

Most troubling is that CDT fails to acknowledge that the widespread and evolving role of interactive advertising practices by these companies—including behavioral targeting, “rich” immersive media, and virtual reality formats—pose a serious threat to privacy and personal autonomy. It is not just the “bad” actors that require federal legislation, as CDT’s report suggests. If all Americans are to be protected online, the entire industry must be governed by federal policies designed to ensure privacy and consumer protection.

Here is a comment from my colleague Jennifer Harris: “When a group – with as close ties to the industry as CDT has – calls for government oversight, it is necessary to recognize just how much slack the online advertising and marketing industry has been given with our personal information. The main point is that consumers are at risk; updated federal consumer protection policies are essential to an environment that increasingly uses personal data as its commodity.”

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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