The US Senate is holding a series of hearings on online advertising, behavioral targeting and privacy to determine whether they should consider legislation protecting consumers online in these areas.
The Senate has turned to Google, Microsoft, the FTC, Facebook, privacy watchdogs and others for their opinions in the matter. Some, like Google, welcomed a “comprehensive privacy law that would establish a uniform framework for privacy and procedures to punish bad actors.”
The FTC, on the other hand, believes that the industry could self-regulate: “The commission is cautiously optimistic that the privacy issues raised by online behavioral advertising can be effectively addressed through self-regulation.”
Perhaps most interesting, though, were the senators’ opinions. The New York Times reports:
“We have a solution in search of a problem,” he [Sen Jim DeMint, R-SC] said [in response to the FTC's proposal], noting that Internet companies are developing various ways to protect the privacy of users. “By the time the F.T.C. acts, the industry would be far ahead,” he said.
One legislative question largely unaddressed was whether Congress should set standards for how Internet service providers monitor the actions of their users to create information for advertising. [CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Leslie] Harris alone called for such a law.
Senator Byron Dorgan, the Democrat of North Dakota who chaired the hearing, said he had invited representatives of Internet providers to discuss the issue and they declined. So he said he would schedule another hearing entirely devoted to hearing from the I.S.P.s about their advertising plans.
I think Dorgan’s right—ISPs seem to be a bigger issue lately. Because while Google, Facebook and their ilk have collected substantial data on us, it’s almost always been because we volunteered it to them, registered with them, etc. But does owning the “pipe” give an ISP the right to observe what you’re doing and change content based on that activity?
The Senate plans to continue investigating throughout the year. I guess this just goes to show you—not everyone in Congress would describe the Internet as “a series of pipes” .
What do you think? Should the Senate pass a law in this area, or will the FTC and the industry step up? And where do ISPs fall in here?