FTC town hall to address consumer protection

The Federal Trade Commission will host a two-day town hall meeting to bring together consumer advocates, industry representatives, technology experts and academics to address the consumer protection issues raised by the practice of tracking consumers’ activities online.

The meeting is a follow-on to a dialogue on behavioral advertising that emerged at a November 2006 FTC forum, Tech-Ade, which examined the key technological and business developments that will shape consumers’ core experiences in the coming decade. The meeting will be held November 1-2 at the FTC Conference Center in Washington, DC. It is free and open to the public.

Not everyone has embraced the endeavor.

“The idea that the FTC has to collect more data before it can act to protect consumers is absurd,” said Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy. “Our complaint – and the substantial, almost daily, information we have submitted to the FTC since then – provides sufficient and compelling evidence for action.

“The FTC should be issuing rules, not invitations for an industry talkfest that will result in a delay protecting consumers,” Chester added. “CDD will participate at the town meeting but we will use the event to remind the FTC, other policymakers and the public that new and developing approaches from online advertising threatens consumer privacy.”

Topics at the meeting will include the following.

  • How does online behavioral advertising work? What types of companies play a role in this market?
  • What types of data are collected? Are the data personally identifiable or anonymous? Can anonymous data be combined with personally identifiable data from other sources?
  • How are the data used and by whom? Are they shared or sold? Are the data used for any purposes other than to target advertising?
  • How the online advertising market, and specifically behavioral advertising, changed since 2000?
  • What security protections are companies providing for the consumer data that they collect, use, transfer or store?
  • What do consumers understand about the collection of their information online for use in advertising?
  • Are companies disclosing their online data-collection practices to consumers? Are these disclosures an appropriate and effective way to inform the public about these practices? Are companies offering consumers choices about how data are collected and used?
  • What standards do (or should) govern practices related to online behavioral advertising? Are companies following the National Advertising Initiative Principles, originally issued in 2000, for online network advertising companies? Are these principles still relevant in light of changes in the marketplace? What other legal or self-regulatory standards are applicable to these practices? Are certain practices generally regarded as appropriate or inappropriate in this area?
  • What changes are anticipated in the online behavioral advertising market over the next five years? Will information be collected through technological means other than cookies? Is behavioral advertising moving beyond the Internet into other technologies?
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