“It is where there are actual harms -- not theoretical or speculative harms -- that the Commission can be the most effective in carrying out its mandate of protecting the American consumer,” IAB General Counsel Mike Zaneis says in comments submitted after the FTC's recent “big data” workshop.
“To that end, the Commission’s continued focus on advertising -- a topic explored once again in the Workshop -- does the Commission (and by extension the public) a disservice,” he adds. “Continuing to explore a sector of the economy with robust self-regulation, or even its intersection with sectors with specific laws where unauthorized or inappropriate use of data could cause concrete harms to consumers, is counterproductive and unwarranted.”
The comments, filed late last month and made public last week, were submitted after the agency held a workshop addressing policy issues surrounding the use of big data.
Questions about whether big data poses risks have been swirling for a long time, but they seemed to capture more attention in recent months -- largely thanks to the White House's Big Data report. That paper, issued in May, warns that the use of data to personalize ads and content could reflect discrimination.
“The fusion of many different kinds of data, processed in real time, has the power to deliver exactly the right message, product or service to consumers before they even ask,” the report says. “Unfortunately, 'perfect personalization' also leaves room for subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination in pricing, services and opportunities.”
Also in May, the FTC released its long-awaited report about data brokers, which called for new laws that would require online retailers and other “consumer-facing entities” to allow consumers to opt out of having their information shared with data brokers.
The FTC addressed some of these concerns at a hearing last month, following which it accepted an additional round of comments.
Not everyone who weighed in agrees with the IAB.
The ACLU, for instance, says that using big data to personalize ads might threaten civil rights.
“In considering the implications of big data, we are particularly concerned about the behavioral targeting, which has the potential to significantly reinforce existing economic disparities between racial groups,” the ACLU writes.
The organization adds that targeted ads could result in different people receiving offers with variations in prices. “Because decisions about which advertisements to display are in some cases based on data about race or factors closely linked to race, we are in danger of segregating the consumer experience on the web,” the ACLU says.