Commentary

FTC Chair: 'Cyberazzi' Compile 'Astonishingly Complete' Profiles

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz coined a new word today: Cyberazzi.

What are cyberazzi? In Leibowitz's words: “Cookies and other data catchers” that “follow us as we browse, reporting our every stop and action to marketing firms that, in turn, collect an astonishingly complete profile of our online behavior."

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Leibowitz said the FTC “has no intention of pulling a Sean Penn on the cyberazzi” but, given the connotations of this new word, it's safe to say the FTC probably isn't thrilled with the online behavioral targeting industry.

FTC officials have repeatedly said they would like companies to allow people to opt out of online tracking by third parties, not just ad targeting. Current self-regulatory standards prohibit ad networks and others from sending targeted ads to users based on the data about which sites they visit, but don't prevent companies from tracking users as they go from site to site. Leibowitz did say that “many if not most” people prefer receiving targeted ads to untargeted ones. Whether that's empirically true probably depends a great deal on the nature of the ads. A coupon for a discount at the local movie theater might be better received than a discount for, say, a diet book.

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The FTC Chairman probably stretched the cyberazzi analogy as far as it could go, joking that “our every online click is tracked and recorded with the intensity of a National Enquirer photographer trying to catch Justin Bieber on a bad hair day.”

Not everyone appreciated the joke. An audience member from an industry group said during the question-and-answer session that the analogy didn't fit, given that online marketing companies don't care about people's identities, only whether they meet specific criteria.

1 comment about "FTC Chair: 'Cyberazzi' Compile 'Astonishingly Complete' Profiles".
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  1. Michael Lawrence from N/A, October 12, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.

    I'm constantly astounded at how thick-headed online businesses can be. It doesn't make any difference what they currently do or don't do with people's identities, it's what they, or others, MIGHT do with the information. Witness Barnes & Nobles' demands regarding Borders' email lists: the Borders' agreement was the list wouldn't go to a third party without the addressee's consent. And that's being litigated, meaning the addresses could be released. And the entire China/Google dust-up should give anyone used to Western controls on government snooping pause. Which doesn't mean Western governments are particularly high-minded when it comes to demanding information a company gathers online.

    What actually astounds me more is that there aren't more companies declaring they won't track or target, and make a lot of noise about this policy. I'll bet they'd get a lot of business.

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