CDT has long been an ally of the various data collection companies it purports to oversee on behalf of consumers. Itâ€™s funded by a number of them. In fact Microsoftâ€™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 itâ€™s only because of policy-related pressure from privacy advocatesâ€”including the FTC complaint filed last November by my Center for Digital Democracy and US PIRGâ€”that there have been modest corporate changes. [As well as the work of these two groups and EPIC in the case of Googleâ€™s proposed merger with Doubleclick, and the role of European Commission authorities]. CDTâ€™s report also fails to acknowledge that itâ€™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.] â€”and the subsequent US and international regulatory scrutinyâ€”that has created the â€œpressureâ€ to bring about a few modest changes in data collection and retention practices. Without real advocates pressingâ€”and regulators taking up their demandsâ€”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 companiesâ€”including behavioral targeting, â€œrichâ€ immersive media, and virtual reality formatsâ€”pose a serious threat to privacy and personal autonomy. It is not just the â€œbadâ€ actors that require federal legislation, as CDTâ€™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.”