Consumer Groups Want FTC Investigation of Online Advertising

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Two DC-based consumer advocacy groups: the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), filed a 50-page complaint yesterday calling for the FTC to investigate standard online advertising practices, alleging that the current practice of collecting “anonymous” consumer behavior and tracking data abuses consumers and violates their right to privacy. The complaint urges the FTC to focus on Microsoft’s new adCenter data collection and ad targeting service while examining the ad policies of companies like Google and Yahoo.

“Unfortunately, over the last several years the FTC has largely ignored the critical developments of the electronic marketplace that have placed the privacy of every American at risk,” said CDD director Jeff Chester in a statement. “The FTC should long ago have sounded a very public alarm–and called for action–concerning the data collection practices stemming from such fields as Web analytics, online advertising networks, behavioral targeting, and rich ‘virtual reality’ media, all of which threaten the privacy of the U.S. public.”

In August, AOL unintentionally released the supposedly anonymous search records of 650,000 users. Based on the search data alone, a New York Times reporter was quickly able to single out and identify one particular AOL user. “Microsoft, like Google and Yahoo, is actively rewriting the rules that govern the online marketplace,” added Chester. “It is the FTC’s job to make certain that these rules reflect more than corporate self-interest. The public interest matters, too.”

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