Marketers have been busily educating themselves and designing online ad campaigns to behaviorally target consumers who might be interested in purchasing their products and services. At the same time, industry watchdogs have been publishing articles about the dangers of this marketing practice. Several ad industry associations have endorsed a new self-regulatory program that was announced earlier this year. But that action may not be enough to prevent possible regulatory activity by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The agency has already solicited comments from consumers and industry officials and plans to release an additional report on this topic on January 31, 2011.
In its most recently issued report, the FTC has suggested a Do Not Track feature which it envisions as being similar to the Do Not Call feature consumers can now employ to guard against unwanted telephone solicitations. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz says “the FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice.” The commission envisions a process that involves a privacy by design approach where marketers will protect consumer information. Also, the commission hopes that consumers have a choice when it comes to sharing their data and this choice should not have to come after reading a long disclosure agreement. For example, a privacy discussion box could be enabled by a pop-up blocker when a consumer accesses a site.
Linda Woolley, executive VP-government affairs with the DMA, echoes the concern of many in the marketing industry when she notes “the phrase ‘do not track’ sounds catchy and analogous to ‘do not call,’ but it’s not at all similar..” She also believes that consumers are well aware of how tracking works and that increased legislation in this area could seriously affect the future of online advertising.
Many marketers believe the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And such interference likely won’t come until Congress takes action on the topic. Meanwhile, some industry players aren’t taking any chances. Microsoft has recently announced that the next version of Internet Explorer will contain improved privacy controls. This topic is likely to appear in more headlines in 2011 as regulators and marketers work to find the balance between profitable online advertising and consumer privacy.[Source: Hosford, Christopher. FTC proposes regulating online targeted ads. BtoBOnline.com. 2 Dec. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010; FTC Staff Issues Privacy Report Offers Framework for Consumers, Businesses, and Policymakers. FTC.gov. 1 Dec. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010]