"We are currently examining practices that undermine the tools that consumers can use to opt out of behavioral advertising," Vladeck said this morning at the FTC's roundtable on privacy. "We hope to announce law enforcement actions later this year," he added.
Vladeck didn't elaborate, so it's not yet clear which companies are in the FTC's crosshairs. But one possibility is that he was referring to companies that use Flash cookies to circumvent users' wishes -- something that Vladeck and Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour have previously criticized.
In fact, Flash was a big focus at the first FTC panel discussion this morning. Berkeley Law's Chris Hoofnagle mentioned that some companies had boasted that Flash cookies can be used for behavioral targeting because most consumers don't know enough to delete such cookies -- stored in a different place than traditional HTTP cookies.
Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, pointed out that companies' use of Flash illustrates a longstanding pattern in which technology evolves faster than consumers' knowledge. The result, he says is a "gap created between what technology can do and what consumers want."
At another panel today at the FTC, Chris Conley, technology & civil liberties fellow at the ACLU of Northern California, gave a vivid example of the real-world consequences of Facebook's new privacy settings. Conley reported that two closeted students complained to his organization that they were outed by Facebook's new privacy settings. The students had previously signed up as fans of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) page on Facebook. But the site now classifies all pages people are fans of as "publicly available information" -- which gets published on their profile pages.
Facebook's Tim Sparapani, director of public policy, offered the disingenuous response that the information was always public because the LGBT's page posted the names of fans. That may be true, but there's a big difference between being named on a fan site that also lists 19,000 other Facebook members, and having the information appear on users' own profile pages.