Online Advertising and the FTC

The decision on whether the government should force sites that collect personal data to get consumers to opt in whenever they visit the site might be nearing its conclusion.

Despite efforts by the industry to push for self-regulation, the Federal Trade Commission seems bent on changing the rules and tightening up users' control over their own personal data. According to the New York Times, David Vladeck, head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC, believes privacy policies have become useless, the commission's standards for the cases it reviews are too narrow, and some online tracking is "Orwellian."

"We're not committing ourselves to imposing regulation," he told the Times. "What we would like is to figure out useful tools and a more comprehensive way of looking at privacy protections that may obviate the need for rules."

Whatever that means. Executives who have worked on both sides say that opt-in would be death for ad networks and especially publishers and affiliates. Cookies are integral to advertisers and ad networks generating maximum value for publishers, they say, adding it would be a disaster.

But Vladeck doesn't seem to be too concerned with the doomsayers, saying "he was not troubled by the problems this might pose for marketers."

"Let people vote with their feet," he told the Times. "If the marketers are right, and the consumers like behavioral advertising, then it should be no big deal. The message is, you have to be more transparent about what it is you're doing."

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