At ad:tech New York, FTC's Leibowitz backs privacy self-regulation

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New York—The Federal Trade Commission continues to support the advertising industry's efforts at self-regulation of behaviorally targeted advertising, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told an audience at ad:tech New York here Tuesday. At the same opening session, he announced that the FTC has settled charges against an ad network for violating its own privacy policy on how it tracks online behavior. Leibowitz said that the FTC's proposed do-not-track regulations “should not be administered by the government. We believe that you, the advertising industry, should give consumers choices about how they are tracked online.” Leibowitz lauded the Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of marketing organizations, for its ongoing efforts to promote marketing transparency to Internet users as to what personal data are being tracked and how those data are used. Leibowitz urged the advertising industry to fully adopt the program. Failure to do so, he said, would fuel congressional calls for federal laws to regulate online advertising. In addition, Leibowitz said that the FTC had settled charges against video ad network ScanScout Inc. about deceiving Web visitors as to its privacy policies. The company promised visitors they could opt out of behavioral tracking, but the tracking cookies it inserted on users' computers—based on Flash technology—generally are invisible to computer users, and are difficult to delete or block. Under the settlement, ScanScout agreed not to misrepresent its data-collection practices or obscure site visitors' ability to control collection of their data. The company must also take steps to improve disclosure of its data collection practices and provide a user-friendly mechanism that allows consumers to opt out of being tracked. Leibowitz said that such deceptive marketing practices may serve to undermine the marketing industry's efforts to ward off government regulation of online advertising. “We at the FTC have no interest in shutting down the Internet party,” he said. “Our only concern is that, if guests understand there could be a cover charge to the party [in the form of giving up some privacy], they should be able to make meaningful choices about how much they'll pay.”
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