FTC PrivacyCon Targets Advertising

January 15, 2016

Yesterday the FTC held its PrivacyCon event, which brought together researchers and academics to discuss the latest trends related to consumer privacy and data security. Throughout the day, there was agreement among presenters that the amount of data being collected on consumers for marketing purposes is growing at a rapid pace. The common theme was that consumers often don’t know exactly what data is being collected on them, and that they either haven’t been adequately informed or that they don’t agree that this information should be allowed to be used to target online advertisements to them.

Unfortunately, no marketers presented at the event to shed light on the actual advertising practices that were so widely attacked. Speakers were allowed to present exaggerations on the misuse of consumer data and completely failed to acknowledge the success of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) self-regulatory program to provide enhanced consumer notice and choice for online advertising. One presenter even stated that the DAA’s AdChoices icon – which is located in the corner of ads from DAA participants and provides a link to the website where consumers can edit their advertising preferences – is ineffective and rarely seen by anyone. This clearly is simply not true. The icon has been placed multi-trillions of times. There have been over 54 million visits to the DAA website, and over 8 million consumers have chosen to opt-out of receiving interest based ads. This is a far cry from “ineffective” and “unseen”. With the growing purview of the DAA program, the online advertising ecosystem is only becoming more transparent. It was also noted at the conference that consumers are very eager to obtain the newest technologies and Internet access driven by data collection, and so they are willing to provide their data in exchange for this exposure.

While there were not consistent calls at the conference for particular government regulations, the overall consensus was that some additional action needs to be taken to protect consumers. Commissioner Julie Brill stated in her speech that the FTC intends to continue to be the “cop on the beat” for consumer privacy issues and will continue to be actively watching and monitoring all of the topics discussed. ANA strongly encourages the FTC to work with those in the advertising industry, particularly the DAA, before instituting any regulations regarding online privacy and advertising practices. Self-regulatory programs are working, and it is imperative any further regulatory action take into account these efforts and the concerns of all stakeholders.

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