In February, the Federal Trade Commission released its report on behavioral advertising "guidelines," with strong suggestion over the recent weeks from Commissioner Jon Liebowitz that without significant self-regulation, the online advertising industry could see regulation or legislation.
Yesterday, two House committees came together to look at privacy implications of online advertising and discuss such esoteric topics as deep packet inspection. The joint hearing of the House Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection on Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices and Consumers' Experiences was webcast.
Republican Joe Barton of Texas, ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, had the soundbite of the day. Although he commended industry for some measure of self-regulation, Barton said that it may be time for Congress to "to bring some law and order" to what is "still a bit of a Wild West area." "I think it's a big deal if somebody tracks where you go and what you look at without your personal approval," Barton continued. "We wouldn't like that in the non-Internet world, and I personally don't like it in the Internet world."
"Opt-in" Coming to the US?
Democrat Rick Boucher of Virginia chairs one of the subcommittees and is expected to introduce a general privacy bill with other committee members. In the hearing, Boucher called for what he called "baseline" consumer protections. In that group, he included a requirement that consumers be allowed to "opt in" to use of their personal information by third parties. The shift from "opt out" to "opt in" would be a significant change for US online advertisers and retailers, but would actually bring the US in line with practices in Canada and the European Union.
Both Boucher and ranking communications subcommittee member Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) acknowledged the need to balance consumer-centric privacy protection regulation with the potential for negative economic impact on a $300 billion US industry in a time of economic downturn. Boucher said that he had "no intention of disrupting this business model." Stearns echoed that sentiment: "We want to do no harm here."
The FTC's letter is available here
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