Privacy action

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Given recent federal laws and other efforts to address data privacy issues, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris is not unreasonable in asking for a chance to enforce what's on the books before inviting Congress to write more laws. But there is no putting privacy issues on a back burner.

The biggest threat to developing the efficiencies promised by highly targeted marketing is a worried citizenry-a public so uneasy about the privacy of personal information that it demands elected officials close the door more tightly on data gathering simply because it cannot trust data users.

Unlike Chairman Muris, many voices in Congress are ready to start drafting laws now. While he prefers that Congress wait, Chairman Muris reminded business, as he laid out his program on privacy issues this month, that this issue "has become a large and central part of the FTC's consumer protection mission." It should be equally front-and-center for marketers.

The chairman promises the FTC will devote more staff time specifically to enforce recently enacted laws and regulations that touch on privacy issues in telemarketing, the continuing embarrassment of deceptive online advertising "spam," identity theft, faulty credit reporting and online marketing to children. He also said he wants to hold marketers legally responsible for honoring their stated privacy policies and to explore government creation of a massive "don't call" list for telemarketers.

If the FTC delivers on this program, it's a start toward strengthening consumer trust. Smart marketers will want their companies and industry associations to be partners with the FTC as it explores the benefits, and shortcomings, of present laws and regulations. There could be a lot riding on what is learned.

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