FTC's Julie Brill Tells Ad Tech Companies To Improve Privacy Protections

The Federal Trade Commission's Julie Brill is taking the online ad industry to task for failing to move forward with a universal do-not-track mechanism that would allow consumers to avoid data collection by ad networks and exchanges.

"In 2010, we called for the establishment of a universal “Do Not Track” tool where consumers could opt out of cross-site data collection in their browsers," Brill stated in a speech delivered on Monday at the annual conference of the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division. "And yet, here we are, in 2015, and consumers’ still do not have an adequate means to opt-out of data collection. It is more clear than ever that self-regulation needs to keep up with the times: after all these years, consumers still don’t understand what’s happening with their personal information, and they continue to struggle to control targeted advertising and data collection."



Brill specifically called for ad organizations to close a "loophole in the industry rules" that allows companies to send targeted ads that relate to "sensitive health conditions."

"Industry codes may rule out the use of doctor diagnoses for targeting, but web searches and visiting medical websites seem to be fair game," she said. "So the fact that you surfed the web or used an app to learn about an STD or heart disease can be added to behavioral profiles and lead to targeted ads on other websites."

Brill also addressed ad blockers' growing popularity -- which she suggested is driven at least partially by privacy concerns.

"Truthfully, it is surprising to me that the ad tech industry hasn’t been more motivated to offer consumers better tools to protect their privacy, because it has always been the case that consumers could take matters into their own hands," Brill said.

She pointed out that the ad-blocker Peace garnered 38,000 downloads in just two days, before the developer withdrew the app -- which used data from Ghostery to determine which third parties to block.

"Guess what?" she continued. "Peace’s number one spot in the App Store was then replaced by Crystal, another ad-blocker."

Brill added: "I urge industry to create robust and innovative tools to address this demand in a sophisticated way. Not to find ways around consumer choice, but to provide consumers with something they clearly want: to see advertising that respects their privacy and that they can trust."

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