FTC Considers Online Privacy Regulation

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First it was the Federal Communications Commission and net neutrality rules. Now the Federal Trade Commission and online privacy oversight are hot tech topics in Washington. The New York Times reported Monday the FTC's round-table discussion on privacy and technology boasted a standing-room-only crowd including representatives from retail, academia, consumer groups and tech giants.


Some, like the Center for Internet Freedom's Berin Szoka say regulation would "make a real difference," the story says. Not surprisingly, consumer groups also want Congress to step in and regulate how information collected on the Internet is used. Patient Privacy Rights, for instance, is specifically interested in what Congress has to say about how information collected in personal health records is used.


The problem is that consumers have no idea how information is used for targeted advertising, the story says. Moreover, though some companies explain their practices and give users the chance to opt out or change the information in their profiles, World Privacy Forum's Pam Dixon said those documents are so cross-referenced and "convoluted" that consumers shouldn't be expected to understand them.


Yahoo took steps to stay ahead of possible regulation by making its consumer advertising profiles available to be edited. The company is also testing ads that indicate, via an icon, that they are targeted ads. The program is one on which the Future of Privacy Forum has been working, and in fact one that FPF's Christopher Wolf mentioned when I spoke to him not too long ago. Google also allows users to edit their advertising profiles, according to the New York Times.


No formal decisions were made at Monday's round table, but I'm sure the FTC, like the FCC, is an agency to watch in the coming year.