IPv6: The Next Privacy War After Intel?

Privacy and technology experts are now advising marketers to familiarize themselves with the IPv6 problem, a little-known but fast-erupting new Internet technology debate likely to present the direct marketing industry with yet another policy battle regarding its stewardship of consumers’ personal information.

The cautions were urged in Washington amidst an Electronic Privacy Information Center lawsuit filed this week against the Federal Trade Commission. David L. Sobel, general counsel for EPIC, said the organization simply wants to know what privacy-related complaints consumers are making to the government.

However, given the dearth of information currently circulating on IPv6 in the marketing world, it’s unlikely EPIC will find consumers launching early salvos on the subject to the FTC. IPv6 is technology being considered by engineers at the Internet Engineering Task Force who essentially have found a more advanced way to transmit data over the Internet: They assign a unique serial code to each packet of information that is sent from users’ computer systems as they interface with access providers and network server systems.

IETF chairman Fred Baker said, however, that although there were some potential issues surrounding consumer information and the new protocol, “I think the privacy concerns are overrated.”

According to Arie Schwartz, spokesman at the Center for Democracy and Technology, Washington, “There are potentially large privacy ramifications lying ahead on this issue. I think it’s hard to say how much information will ultimately be included [in the new protocol], but there is the possibility that marketers will be able to tie the information or transmissions back to a single computer or individual user.”

But because consumers are now moving around more and using different computer systems at different times, Schwartz said, this could lead to widescale inaccuracies in tracked information.

At Junkbusters Corp., Green Brook, NJ, Jason Catlett said, “I don’t think IPv6 is the next Y2K, but it certainly could be the next Intel because it poses a threat to the anonymity of all Internet user transactions.”

IPv6 is scheduled to be addressed at a public meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force in Washington next month, at which time the industry will likely become more focused on the issue.

“I think this is all going to be very contentious,” said David Steer, spokesman with TRUSTe, Cupertino, CA, a leading online privacy seal program. “Marketers should be proactively addressing this as a serious issue. And they should already be informing their customers about how they’re collecting personally identifiable information and what they do with it. I would forecast that the IPv6 issue will generate at least an equal, if not greater level of concern than we’ve already seen on privacy in general.”

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