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FTC Stands Behind Self-Regulation of Online Ad Industry




FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz spoke up for self-regulation of targeted advertising during a presentation at ad:tech New York on Tuesday.

He stated that consumers must be given a choice as to how much of their personal data is tracked, but it’s up to the ad industry, not the government, to make it so.

“We at the FTC have no interest in shutting down the Internet party,” he said. “Our only concern is that, if guests understand there could be a cover charge to the party [in the form of giving up some privacy], they should be able to make meaningful choices about how much they’ll pay.”

This comes just as the Digital Advertising Alliance released an up-dated set of principles regarding online data collection.

The new rules prohibit the use of online data as a means of determining medical care eligibility, credit or insurance eligibility or any employment-related decisions.  It also requires sites to adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act rules when collecting data on children under 13 and it requires explicit permission to collect medical or pharmaceutical data.

As much as this is a step in the right direction, privacy advocates fear it’s not enough mostly because Alliance membership is voluntary. If an ad network has no intention of following the rules, they don’t have to join the Alliance. And it’s not like consumers are going to limit their web surfing to sites that use only compliant networks.

Networks that do agree to the rules then break them, could be subject to fines and further investigation by the FTC. The Accountability Program recently released their findings on their first cases. They say all six companies responded in a timely manner, changing their data collection policies within weeks of being notified of a problem.

Liebowitz says that as long as the FTC sees the industry working together to prevent misuse of online data collection, they’ll stay on the sidelines. But if we can’t all play nice, then the government is ready to step in with new rules and laws that will apply to everyone, like it or not.