Consumer Advocates Ask FTC to Help Curb Behavioral Targeting Tactics - Page 2

Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum, said on the conference call that in addition to the registry the group wants the FTC to define sensitive information as any data about health, finances, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and political activity.

"The current definitions are too narrow and they're weak to the point of being completely unworkable and ineffective," Dixon said, pointing to efforts from the Network Advertising Initiative and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. "We think that the job belongs with a neutral party and we think the best party for that job is the Federal Trade Commission."

She also argued that Internet advertising will not grind to a halt if Websites allow users to opt into it; this would mean Web surfers would have to click a button on a Website to allow that site to serve them ads based on their user behavior. Today, Websites let users click a button to opt out of letting Websites store information about their Web use.

Dixon said Websites accepting sensitive information should be allowed to use this information for a full day before disgorging it. If a site wishes to keep the information longer, it will have to get "affirmative consent" from a user. Though the group declined to offer an idea for a mechanism for this, this would likely be an opt-in button.

However, online advertisers have balked at such suggestions because the track record for users opting into anything, let alone tools that target or track them, is poor.

A source for a company that practices behavioral tracking told eWEEK the company believes offering users the option to opt out of allowing the company to track their Web browsing habits for ad purposes works fine.

Christine Chen, a spokesperson for leading search engine Google, which began using behavioral tracking on the Websites of its AdSense partners in March, told eWEEK that Google welcomes the dialogue.

Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson said the group is stepping in because "self-regulation does not work and I think the folks on the Hill are finally getting that."

The coalition's full list of principles for Congress are here, (PDF) but readers can also see a two-page primer here. (PDF)