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Privacy debate back in spotlight

MONITORING CLOSELY

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Yet as online advertising has grown, so have privacy concerns—and that's where industry groups begin to worry. Currently, Cersale said, there is no pending federal legislation that would limit advertising through consumer privacy measures, which is why the DMA is monitoring lawsuits such as Harris v. comScore Inc. so closely. “Class actions like this one can have the same effect as government regulation,” he said. “Especially in the privacy area, these lawsuits can be the most effective way to curb the industry.” As evidence, Cerasale offered up the case against Williams-Sonoma Inc. in California, where in 2011 the California Supreme Court ruled that retailers couldn't force customers to give up their ZIP codes during credit card transactions. The case was brought against the retailer by a consumer who alleged that Williams-Sonoma used her name and ZIP code to get her address and begin sending her direct marketing pieces. After that ruling in California, privacy advocates last month filed a similar class action suit against Guitar Center in U.S. Distirct Court for the District of Massachusetts. Geo-location on mobile devices is another potential hot-button privacy issue, Cerasale said. The technology is already available to offer consumers deals based on geo-location software—but privacy advocates worry that advertisers' routinely tracking mobile phone and tablet users represents an unwanted intrusion into their personal lives. “There are usually no real damages in cases like this,” Cerasale said. “You can't figure out the costs.”

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