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'Do Not Track' Means 'Do Not Collect,' FTC Advises

7 Mar, 2012 By: Jackie Jones

WASHINGTON – Online privacy and behavioral-targeted advertising have long been a hot issue among the industry’s top players, and the growth of E-commerce, digital advertising, and mobile and tablet platforms continues to bring attention to what online privacy should mean to both marketers and consumers.

While many industry groups, big-name brands and advertisers have for the most part agreed on the basics of “Do Not Track” ideology, many advocates – including commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – are now stressing the collection of data be stopped when consumers opt out of behavioral advertising.

“In some areas, (the) industry has made progress in providing consumers with certain choices to limit the information collected about them. In connection with behavioral advertising, (the) industry heard the Federal Trade Commission’s call for the development of the Do Not Track mechanisms that would enable consumers to make choices in connection with targeted ads. (The) industry has developed both browser-based solutions and an opt-out cookie-based solution. I am closely watching these developments,” Brill said. “For me, one of the most critical points is that Do Not Track is not just ‘Do Not Target,’ but also, when the consumer so chooses, ‘Do Not Collect.’”

Brill spoke Friday on the issues surrounding the collection, use and retention of consumer data at Fordham University School of Law in New York. There are positives and negatives to consumer data collection and behavioral advertising – what Brill referred to as “Big Data” in her lecture.

“The potential benefits of Big Data are many, consumer understanding is lacking and the potential risks are considerable,” Brill concluded. “We need to pay attention to these issues so that the promise of Big Data is realized and the risks are kept to a minimum. (The) industry has a strong and justifiable need to continue to innovate. But in order for (the) industry to thrive, it must engage in an honest discussion about its collection and use practices in order to instill consumer trust in the online and mobile marketplace.”

Government interference in the industry’s self-regulatory practices when it comes to behavioral advertising remains a hot-button topic. At least two online privacy bills have been introduced in the Senate since last year, while the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) continues to push its own Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising (Response This Week, May 10, 2011).

“The DMA and its thousands of member companies have spent countless hours and considerable resources developing a system to provide real and meaningful choice to consumers about the way their information is collected and used across the Internet,” said DMA CEO Lawrence Kimmel. “I can say with certainty that business is safeguarding consumers’ privacy without any cost to taxpayers while protecting the economic interests of all Americans.”

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