Brill: FTC Will Monitor Behavioral Ad Self-Regs

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Democratic Federal Trade Commission member Julie Brill gave ad trade associations a shout out for a recent behavioral advertising self-regulatory initiative, but said in general she has been underwhelmed by self-regulation in that area and that the FTC will be checking to see if the latest effort measures up.

That came in a speech this week in New York.

Two weeks ago, ad industry associations and the Better Business Bureau announced a set of self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising.

Those include affirmative efforts to educate consumers about behavioral marketing, creating clearer and more accessible disclosures, allowing for more consumer control of data collection, parental consent for behavioral advertising targeting kids under 13, consumer consent for "material changes" and use and programs to monitor compliance.

Advertisers are looking to head off calls for opt-in regimes, bans on targeted marketing to kids under 13, and perhaps older, and more.

In her speech, Commissioner Brill said the FTC would vet the program to see how easy it was for consumers to use, calling that a critical factor and saying if consumers don't understand the controls provided, or can't use them easily, "the program simply won't be effective." She said the commission will also be checking to see how "robust" enforcement is, and how widespread the participation is in the voluntary program.

The FTC is about to release a report on a proposed re-think of how it protects consumer privacy in the digital age.

Behind the report were its conclusions after a yearlong review that: collection of consumer information on and offline is "far more extensive" than some consumers are aware of, that consumers don't have the ability or understanding to make informed decisions about data collection and use; that privacy is still important in a world linked by "ubiquitous" social networking; that there are benefits to consumer data collection because it allows for more personalized advertising and because it helps pay the freight for the free content consumers have come to expect online.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz has on more than one occasion pointed to the upside of behavioral advertising for just those reasons.

Brill also said the distinction between personally identifiable information--which gets heightened protection--and non-identifiable information is blurring.

She said the report would likely talk about "privacy by design," or building privacy and security into the front end of the process; transparency about commercial data practices; consumer choice, and perhaps some kind of "do not track" mechanism. Brill said she would personally favor.

The report, she said, would be a framework for self-regulation and industry best practices and to provide information to policymakers.

The FTC has limited rulemaking authority, but there is privacy legislation in Congress that could still be modified to reflect suggestions from the FTC.

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