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By Published on .

The Federal Trade Commission may seek privacy legislation to limit Web marketers' ability to join personal information to profile and target ads without consumers' knowledge.

Although FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky recently said there was no need for immediate privacy legislation because of progress in self-regulation, he did note that there could be such a need in some specific areas.

"We might want to isolate [profiling] or put a spotlight on it," Mr. Pitofsky said.


The FTC said it would join with the U.S. Department of Commerce to conduct a "public workshop" on online profiling.

Behind the moves are the growth of tracking databases and some concern that consumers do not have sufficient information about how their Web surfing is being tracked or what is being done with the information.

While individual Web sites may tell consumers what they do with information collected directly, the FTC's concern is that consumers may not have as much information on the privacy policies of third-party ad servers that serve ads to multiple sites.

Heightening concerns is the recent announcement by DoubleClick, a third-party server of Web ads, that it would merge with Abacus Direct, which maintains consumer profiles from direct marketing.

Some consumer groups have criticized the merger, complaining it would allow the company to create vast profiles on consumers without their knowledge.


Marketers and ad servers earlier this month expressed some concern about the FTC's scrutiny.

"Credit-card information is shared with direct marketers. . . . So why is the FTC all of a sudden looking into this?" asked Owen Davis, president-CEO of Thinking Media Corp., a software developer that has invented technology to measure ad delivery and how long users actually view a banner.

"I don't think a targeted banner is a breach of privacy because it is a computerized calculation," he said. "A breach of privacy is when someone calls you at your house, uses your name and knows things about you. If you are a [Web]

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