Open Data Partnership Steps Up to FTC’s Plate


ftc_smallADOTAS – Back in October, Federal Trade Commission member Julie Brill told attendees at a conference held by law firm Proskauer that the FTC would likely recommend industry self regulation in its December report on behavioral targeting. The self-regulation, though, would be the subject of the approval of the FTC.

It seemed like the best possible outcome — industry and government working together to build an optimal solution for consumers to manage how their online data is treated.

So if you could taste the disappointment on Wednesday when the commission’s report came out in favor of a Do Not Track program, which like the Do Not Call list would likely require passage by Congress, you weren’t alone. The FTC proposed a browser add-on that blocked websites from collecting data. However, even members of the commission were not unanimously in favor of DNT and suggested they had no clue how to manage it — they’d just enforce it, apparently.

“It would bring e-commerce to a halt, and consumers aren’t going to like the results,” eMarketer Senior Analyst Debbie Williamson told CNN Money. “There’s not much chance that these specific proposals would be enacted.”

FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz claimed that the FTC wasn’t explicitly calling for legislation, just offering a recommendation to lawmakers if “industry doesn’t step up to the plate.” Already Massachusetts Democratic Representative Ed Markey wrote up a bill proposing a system to prevent online tracking of children.

I’m sure that will be quite fun to implement — since most tracking is done by browser, IP address or device, parents and children would need separate ones, or tracking companies would not be allowed to track any households where parents and children shared any of the three.

As eWeek points out, there’s also a lot of confusion in marketing circles about what the FTC wants. DoubleVerify CEO Oren Netzer adds, “The report is unclear in its definition of policy vs. law, as well as what constitutes ‘sensitive data’ and how a ‘do not track’ mechanism would and should be enforced.”

Though industry reps could simply shake commission members and scream, “What the hell do you want from us?”, some are still trying to abide by Leibowitz’s wishes for them to step up to the plate.

Though it’s being greeted as a last ditch effort by the media, the Open Data Partnership by the Better Advertising Project promises to provide consumers with full transparency into collected data, the ability to edit their information or the option of opting out from participating companies’ cookies. The launch partners include 33Across, Bizo, BlueKai, Demdex, eXelate, Lotame, SafeCount, and Turn.

“Initiatives like this are critical. Not only does it highlight which companies take online privacy seriously, it also shows that the industry is taking significant steps towards strengthening online privacy practices,” said Bizo CEO Russell Glass, who has written several thoughtful articles on online targeting for Adotas. “This type of self-regulation and industry-wide partnership is exactly what Bizo has been championing for quite some time, and is the next crucial step in calming fears and providing full transparency into the online ad targeting business.”

This sounds like what commission member Brill was suggesting back in October. Media commentators are skeptical because so few companies have signed up — especially not big boys Google and Yahoo — but give it some time to mature. The Open Data Partnership certainly sounds preferable to a legislated Do Not Track system — for all parties that flourish on the Internet (i.e., advertisers, publishers and browsers, oh my).


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