Lawmakers propose new regulations for ad targeting, privacy

Lawmakers unveiled proposed legislation that would regulate the way online advertisers can target consumers and how Internet companies collect data about their users today.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D., Va.), who has been talking about such a consumer privacy bill for more than a year, finally posted a discussion draft today to his web site. He’s joined by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.)

The legislation seems to reinforce existing industry practices, instead of pushing entirely new regulations. In fact, some public interest groups may argue that the bill is too weak, according to The Hill.

The key points are:

  • Companies that collect personally identifiable information must have a conspicuously displayed, understandable privacy policy that explains how information is collected, used and disclosed.
  • Companies can still use an opt-out model to collect information about individuals that use their services.
  • Consent isn’t required to collect and use basic data, like routine web logs or session cookies, or to aggregate data as long as it is rendered anonymous.
  • Companies do need an individual’s express opt-in consent for collecting sensitive information like their medical records, financial accounts, Social Security number, sexual orientation, government-issued identifiers and precise geographic location.
  • Consumers have a reasonable expectation that companies won’t share their information with unrelated third parties. If they do, they must ask for permission.
  • Websites that work with third-party ad networks can use an opt-out model for serving ads if there is a clear, easy-to-find link to a webpage that allows a person to edit their profile and potentially opt out of having a profile.
  • The Federal Trade Commission would adopt rules to implement and enforce the measure. States may also enforce the FTC’s rules through State attorneys general or State consumer protection agencies.

Google and Facebook are in the process of reviewing the legislation since it was just posted today. To me, it seems that both companies already adhere to most of these principles. Google provides opt-outs to ads served through its AdSense network along with dashboards that allow users to delete information the search company collects on them.

Google spokesperson Mistique Cano said, “We believe strong, consensus protections for data privacy are vital to support both the interests of our users and future innovation. We are reviewing the draft legislation now and look forward to working with Congress on this important issue.”

Facebook’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes said the company plans to help Boucher shape the bill.

“As public attitudes towards sharing and control over information evolve and become more diverse, Rep. Boucher has taken an important step in what promises to be a productive and vigorous public dialogue about privacy in the Internet age,” he said. “We look forward to being part of the discussion.”

Privacy Draft 5-10

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