Self-regulation is still key to behavioral targeting: FTC

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Responding to industry concerns, the Federal Trade Commission has revised its principles to include a less restrictive stance on behavioral targeting, as long as consumer information collected is protected.

“The key issue is the concern that online advertisers best protect consumer privacy while collecting information about their online activities,” said Pedar Magee, senior staff attorney at the FTC.

The new regulations allow more leniency in both behavioral and contextual advertis­ing. For example, a brand can use targeting on its own sites as long as the personal infor­mation of consumers is protected. Contextual advertising does not collect data over time, and is therefore permitted.

The regulation expanded what qualifies as personally identifiable data to any “infor­mation that could reasonably be associated with a particular consumer or computer or other device,” such as an IP address.

“The distinction between these two types of information has continually blurred,” said Magee. “If you can reasonably identify a person based on their personal computer or device, then these principles should apply.”

While impressed with the overall industry response to regulations so far, Chad Little, CEO of retargeting company Fetchback, explained, “There is no room for compla­cency. The industry should be prepared for regulation unless we get our act together.”

In the coming year, FTC staff will evalu­ate self-regulatory programs and conduct investigations, where appropriate.

The revisions have drawn some criticism from at least one industry watchdog, which is now looking to Congress to legislate.

“I think that the time for self-regulation had passed,” said Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democ­racy. “People no longer have confidence that the FTC will be able to quickly protect consumers who rely on the Internet for critical transactions, such as those involving health and finance.”

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