March 27, 2012, 12:10 PM — At long last, after years of debate and deliberations, the FTC finally released its recommendations for online privacy. Titled “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change” [PDF], the 112-page report offered no big surprises. Bottom line: The FTC wimps out pretty badly in most cases.
Here are the highlights and lowlights:
1. Legislate this, mofo
The FTC report calls upon Congress to pass “baseline privacy legislation” ensuring our rights online and off. (To which I say, about friggin’ time.) Beyond that, though, the FTC was mum as to what that legislation might do, beyond being “technologically neutral and sufficiently flexible to allow companies to continue to innovate.”
Call me a cynic, but I think the best we can expect from this is some heavily watered down law written by industry lobbyists that offers little to no real consumer protection.
2. Don’t Track Me, Bro
The FTC report was full of hugs and kisses for the online ad industry’s voluntary Do Not Track mechanisms and Ad Choices program, which I’ve covered more than a few times in this space, stopping short of calling for new Do Not Track legislation. Me, I’m not quite as enamored of the industry’s self-regulation efforts. For one thing, the ad industry isn’t really offering a “Do Not Track” opt out, it’s offering a “Do Not Target” opt out.
If you opt out, ad networks will continue to drop cookies on your hard disk that collect tracking information on you, but they won’t use that data to serve you targeted ads. Those who follow the guidelines laid out by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) also can’t use this tracking information to determine your eligibility for employment, credit, insurance, and the like.
That’s great. The problem? Less than one-fifth of 800+ online tracking companies that have been tallied up by Evidon, the keepers of the Ad Choices program, are members of the DAA. What will the rest do with your tracking info? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m sure it won’t be to your benefit.
3. Data brokers gone wild
The FTC was less sanguine about the alleged self-regulatory efforts of data brokers, calling for Congress to pass new legislation…