FTC & its Do Not Track List: Themes and Terminology

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Posted: February 2, 2011 | Modern Marketing

In this privacy blog series, we’ve been reviewing the trends and changes happening in US privacy within online marketing and business.  One of the biggest recent announcements was, of course, the FTC’s privacy report “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change”.  Released just over a month ago, this report is one of many indicators making clear that online privacy is changing in the US.  Indeed, in its 122 page report the FTC really ratcheted up the conversation on privacy.  Here’s what they are taking about:

Privacy by Design: (a.k.a. Getting real about Privacy“).  Privacy by Design is the FTC’s umbrella term for “systematically” building privacy protections into the development of new products and services and “everyday business practices”.  The kinds of protections the FTC is looking to be designed into business include data collection, retention and security along with data accuracy.  What ‘Privacy by Design’ means is that privacy can’t be an add-on bolted onto a product or service after it launched.  Privacy has to be there from the start.

Consumer Choice
: (a.k.a. Remember it’s my data and I’ll decide if you can have it).  This part of the FTC report is very interesting in that the FTC clearly distinguishes between commonly accepted data practices – like collecting an address to deliver a product – and non-commonly accepted practices – say using machine ID techniques to match a web server to their public voter records.  The FTC doesn’t see the need for opt-in for commonly accepted and indeed seems to understand that opt-in here can actually slow down and add friction to the business of getting business done.  None-commonly accepted practices are a completely different beat and in this case the FTC is looking for clear consumer choice where the consumer understands what the choices actually mean.  The FTC is particularly critical of the current industry practice of placing all privacy disclosures in long winded privacy policies that most consumers don’t read or understand.  Now the FTC is talking about concise and clear privacy disclosures at the time of opt-in.

Do Not Track: (a.k.a. What, you were tracking me?”). In the “Consumer Choice” section of the FTC’s report is the FTC’s now famous Do Not Track list proposal.  Do Not Track has a lot of media attention and for good reason.  This is a big deal.  What the FTC’s going after here is the third party tracking or multi-company profiles that some organizations create.  This third party tracking has almost overnight become a huge industry that most consumers have almost no knowledge of.  These are the organizations that are buying and selling consumer data behind the scenes of web browsing.  In many ways it seems like the FTC feels that these companies are not being upfront about what data they’re collecting, how they’re collecting it, and what they’re doing with it.  Do Not Track is meant to address this potential privacy abuse and give consumers a mechanism to control it.  (It’s worth noting that Marketo does not engage in third party tracking nor do we support the building of multi-company profiles for our customers.)

Transparency: (a.k.a. Just tell me what you’re doing“).  The final theme of the FTC’s report focuses on given consumers succinct and easy to understand information on what data a company maintains on them and who they share it with.  The FTC also places consent for retroactive change to data policies to cover those all too common cases were large online business suddenly change their privacy policies and start selling their users data.

While it’s certainly very interesting reading, the FTC’s privacy report is just the start of a long conversation.  At the end of this month, comments are due to the FTC on questions they put out to industry organizations.  Marketo is currently participating in a response to the FTC’s questions being facilitated by the Online Trust Alliance (OTA).  After that there’s going to be a lot of discussion, more industry self-regulation, more US federal executive authority regulation and possibly US legislative regulation.  It’s going to be a good ride.  At Marketo, we’re excited to be participating in this conversation and look forward to offering our customers the best platform for competing in a world where the consumer has the power of privacy.

FTC & its Do Not Track List: Themes and Terminology

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