Privacy Groups File FTC Complaint About Behavioral Ads

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The World Privacy Forum, the Center for Digital Democracy, and U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Groups) are poised to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding "tracking and profiling practices used by ...Internet companies to auction off ads targeted at individual consumers." The complaint comes shortly after the FTC completed a series of roundtable discussions with industry leaders and other stakeholders regarding how online privacy -- and behavioral advertising in particular -- should be regulated.


According to SiliconValley.com the complaint alleges that the Internet companies -- Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and others -- employ a "massive and stealth data collection apparatus [that] threatens user privacy." The privacy advocates want the FTC to require the companies to obtain consent from users before serving them "behavioral advertising." The fact that the data used to serve these ads does not include names or Social Security numbers is not enough, the organizations argue.


Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester says:

This idea that a cookie is nonpersonal information no longer really applies in this digital age. You don't need to know a person's name to know a person - to understand their likes and their dislikes, the contents of what they read, what they put in their shopping cart...

Chester says the companies need to create a balance between effective advertising and user privacy, and they can do that by getting prior consent for such ads.


On the other hand, the Internet companies argue the best way to create that balance is to let the users who would not like to receive targeted ads opt out of the program. Yahoo, for instance, is among those working to create a single industry Web site where users can go to opt out of any targeted advertising, regardless which company happens to be serving it. Google has a single page where users can opt in and out of behavioral ads in any of Google's services.


But apparently, nothing less than prior consent from the user will appease the privacy advocates.