Digital Fingerprinting Poses 'Real Danger' To Internet, Watchdog Tells FTC

The Federal Trade Commission should scrutinize companies that engage in digital "fingerprinting" -- which involves tracking users based on the characteristics of their devices -- the advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology says.

"There are not currently any privacy enhancing technologies that fully mitigate fingerprinting," the rights group says. "It is clear that this type of unregulated ... tracking represents a real danger not just to privacy, but the Internet itself."

The CDT submitted its comments in advance of an upcoming FTC workshop about the privacy issues raised by tracking consumers across devices for ad purposes. Some ad companies that link people's activity on smartphones and tablets with their activity on desktops accomplish this via "fingerprinting" technology.

That method is considered "probabilistic," because it depends on making inferences about users based on factors like their IP addresses, device types and browser settings. But even though the method might not be 100% accurate, it's still troubling to privacy advocates, given that consumers typically can't prevent companies from collecting that type of data.

Consider, in July, the World Wide Web Consortium came out against against digital fingerprinting, which it condemned as "a blatant violation of the human right to privacy."

The other major cross-device tracking method relies on compiling data about users who are logged in to sites or services.

The CDT says both forms of cross-device tracking -- by log-ins or by probabilistic methods -- can be problematic.

"Users are often unaware of the wealth and detail of information that is being collected about their online and offline activities and the significant privacy invasions that result," the group says.

The organization says that companies engaged in cross-device tracking should be "transparent" to users, and also allow consumers to wield control over whether data about themselves is collected.

"If companies cannot provide a meaningful way to notify users of data collection and give users the opportunity to decide what, if any, data is collected about them, then the FTC should examine whether this is an unfair process," the CDT says.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau also weighed in with the FTC. The trade group says the FTC should refrain from calling for new restrictions on companies' ability to collect data. "Rather than moving toward a prescriptive model of privacy regulation, which could limit companies’ ability to innovate, the FTC should continue its dialogue with industry and support for self-regulatory frameworks," the IAB writes.

4 comments about "Digital Fingerprinting Poses 'Real Danger' To Internet, Watchdog Tells FTC".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Virginia Suhr from Lobo & Petrocine Marketing, October 20, 2015 at 4:55 p.m.

    People have to stop being so paranoid.  I've been buying digital for years and I have yet to know a name of a single person or their email address unless they have voluntarily filled in a form on the client's website.

    The ship for privacy sailed years ago.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 20, 2015 at 5:35 p.m.

    Read Death By Social Media by Shelly Palmer. Maybe then you will start to understand.

  3. Rocky Longworth from BrandStar, October 21, 2015 at 10:08 a.m.

    To address Virgina's point, yes, the privacy shipped sailed years ago. However, it is not a matter of paranoia, just scan a few Facebook pages for evidence that people are not overtly concerned with privacy.

    The watch out lies in the notion of digital profiling. In other words, similar to racial profiling, digital fingerprinting seems to open the door to stereotyping people through their divices in addition to their social activity, which is disconcerting at best and dangerous at worst. 

  4. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, October 21, 2015 at 5:08 p.m.

    People are concerned that their usage data will haunt them and open opportunities for blackmailers.  The prevailing wisdom is "if available on the Internet, it's there forever."

Next story loading loading..