Senator Seeks FTC Probe Of Cross-Device Tracking
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is calling for the Federal Trade Commission to probe marketers' ability to track consumers when they access the Web from different computers or platforms.
“I am concerned about the expansion of tracking across consumer devices,” Markey wrote this week to FTC Chair Edith Ramirez. “Such tracking envelops users in a digital environment where marketers know their preferences and personal information no matter which device they use.”
In the past, ad companies typically could track users on a single device, such as a desktop or laptop, but didn't usually tie together information collected across more than one device. For instance, ad networks could set cookies on desktop computers, but those cookies wouldn't contain information about what users did on smartphones or tablets. Companies also could track smartphone users by device identifiers, but those weren't tied to tablets or laptops.
But now, some companies appear able to
track and target people across a variety of devices and platforms.
Drawbridge, which sends targeted ads to people's smartphones based on the sites they visit on desktop computers, reportedly says it has matched 1.5 billion devices. The company reportedly “uses statistical modeling to determine the probability that several devices have the same owner and to assign that person an anonymous identifier,” according to The New York Times.
Markey says in his letter to the FTC that the implications of such tracking techniques are “alarming.”
“With new technology, companies can monitor behavior patterns and use statistical modeling to determine that different devices and computers belong to the same person, even as consumers are unaware that their online activity on one device is being paired with their activities on other devices,” he writes.