Behavioral marketing has benefits, McCaskill tells Senate colleagues

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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Behavioral marketing provides value to consumers, said US Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on May 19. McCaskill's opinion contrasted with those of her upper chamber colleagues, who spent much of the mobile privacy hearing discussing location tracking.

In response to concerns about location monitoring, McCaskill cited Apple's capability to find lost or stolen mobile devices by using its location services and to enable consumers to remotely erase their stored data.

Representatives from Google, Facebook, Apple and the Federal Trade Commission testified on companies' collection of consumer information via mobile devices.

Last week, Google and Apple participated in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on mobile privacy in the wake of news reports that the companies track and store location data from devices running their respective mobile operating systems. In both hearings, Apple and Google denied tracking devices' locations without consumers' consent.

David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the FTC is focused on mobile applications that track devices' locations with no relation to the app's functionality.

“The litmus test [for location tracking on mobile devices] would be functionality,” he said.

“Consumers want control of their personal information, and they have that right,” said US Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who organized the hearing as Senate Commerce Committee chairman. He introduced Do Not Track legislation May 9 calling for an opt-out mechanism that would apply online and on mobile devices.

McCaskill challenged senators' statements that a majority of consumers are concerned about their online privacy.

“Asking consumers if they value their privacy is like asking if they love their country,” she said. “Of course they're going to say ‘yes.'”

McCaskill said the subcommittee members should not let privacy concerns distort the value that opted-in behavioral marketing provides consumers and companies.

“The [business model of the] whole Internet is behavioral marketing,” she said.

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