FTC Counsels Self-Regulation For Behavioral Ads

    December 20, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

The Federal Trade Commission plans to keep an ear open for complaints now that they have given Google and DoubleClick their blessing to get together.

If Google, DoubleClick’s proud new owner, wants to avoid several miles of regulatory red tape, they might want to listen to some of the FTC’s advice on "Possible Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising."

The FTC document offers some ideas and asks for comment from interested parties on these. Their recommended principles include: transparency and consumer control;
reasonable security, and limited retention of consumer data;
affirmative express consent for material changes to existing privacy promises;
and affirmative express consent (or prohibition against) using sensitive data for behavioral advertising.

The Commission also requested more information on the use of tracking data for purposes other than behavioral advertising. One might have thought this came up during the FTC town hall meeting in November on behavioral advertising, but it seems bureaucrats were more concerned about not regulating behavioral advertising at the time.

In retrospect, that laid the groundwork for this latest call for comments from the FTC. At least superficially, the FTC does not want to get in the way of what has become the major revenue stream on the Internet. Few things are less welcome than more government regulation.

The problem with behavioral advertising and regulation is that the common Internet user, likely a non-tech industry worker, will not grasp the nuances of expressing consent or withholding it when it comes to privacy issues.

A need for regulation may be more a matter of protection for citizens, rather than something to limit what Google or anyone else does with the data they collect, which feeds behavioral ad services. Privacy may be an illusion in many respects, but it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream either.