The current debate surrounding industry self-regulation of the collection and disclosure of online consumer behavior is mirroring a similar, now defunct debate of the late 1990s concerning â€œonline profiling.â€ The big difference now, Eileen Harrington, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, said Friday afternoon during OMMA Expoâ€™s â€œBad Scienceâ€ panel discussion, is, well, â€œeverything.â€
â€œItâ€™s the same issue. Whatâ€™s really changed really, is everything,â€ she said, citing, â€œThe frequency, the volume the techniques, the uses. Everything. Itâ€™s really exploded.â€
In fact, Harrington characterized the current debate as â€œthe juicy policy issue in Washingtonâ€ right now, and warned that if self-regulatory business models arenâ€™t developed by the only industry that give consumers better control of their data and knowledge about how it is being used regulation will be passed to enforce it.
Harrington was hopeful that the online industry could accomplish that, citing successful self-regulatory initiatives developed by the advertising industry during the 20th century, including the Better Business Bureauâ€™s National Advertising Division, which mediates and policies competitive claims and consumer fraud in advertising campaigns.
â€œMeaningful self regulation,â€ she said, â€œincludes policing.â€
Harrington feared that unless the industry takes proactive action, the current debate would result in the same kind of regulation that led to the governmentâ€™s Do-Not-Call list that enables consumers to permanently de-list themselves from telemarketing offers.