The FTC’s privacy recommendations

I thought I should also mention that yesterday, along with its decision on Google/DoubleClick, the FTC released a set of recommendations for companies in regard to what the FTC terms online behavioral advertising – the tracking of Internet users’ behavior, including what they search for, what they click on, what sites they visit, and what documents they view. The principles, which were passed unanimously by the FTC, are not legally binding but are merely suggestions so that the online-advertising industry can self-regulate in order to protect consumers’ privacy. The FTC is still seeking comments on its recommendations from interested parties, so the recommendations are subject to change:

  1. Any site that collects user data for behavioral-advertising purposes should have a clear, prominently displayed privacy policy and should give users the ability to opt out of providing data.
  2. Sites that collect user data for behavioral advertising should keep the data secure and should delete it once it is no longer useful for legitimate business or law-enforcement purposes.
  3. When sites change their privacy policies, they should not use data for purposes other than those stated in the first privacy policy without users’ express consent.
  4. Sites should not collect “sensitive data,” which includes information on medical conditions and children’s online activities, for behavioral advertising without users’ express consent. The FTC says that it is still trying to come up with a specific definition of sensitive data and is considering banning the collection of sensitive data outright.  

I think that adopting these principles would be a great step toward protecting privacy rights online. It is an especially good idea to allow users to opt out of behavioral tracking; it seems to me that all websites should provide this choice. It would be great if the market could be relied upon to agree to and enforce principles such as these, and I think the FTC should give the advertising industry a chance to regulate itself. However, the incentive to gather as much data as possible in order to produce the most effective advertising may make it impossible for companies to stick to an agreement that limits their data-gathering powers. In that case, Commissioner Harbour may be right – a legislative solution could be the only way to protect people’s privacy. Source: 

“FTC Staff Proposes Online Behavioral Advertising Privacy Principles.” 20 Dec. 2007. 21 Dec. 2007 <>.

1 Comment

  1. Marissa’s Internet Law Blog » In conclusion

    August 22, 2008 @ 1:27 am


    […] self-regulation have not remedied this imbalance. The principles proposed by the FTC in December (see my earlier post) are a great idea, and the industry should be given a chance to comply with them through […]

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