FTC Official: Online Consumer Privacy Debate Is It's Deja View All Over Again

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 “online profiling.” The big difference now, Eileen Harrington, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, said Friday afternoon during OMMA Expo’s “Bad Science” panel discussion, is, well, “everything.”

“It’s the same issue. What’s really changed really, is everything,” she said, citing, “The frequency, the volume the techniques, the uses. Everything. It’s really exploded.”

In fact, Harrington characterized the current debate as “the juicy policy issue in Washington” right now, and warned that if self-regulatory business models aren’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 Bureau’s National Advertising Division, which mediates and policies competitive claims and consumer fraud in advertising campaigns.

“Meaningful self regulation,” she said, “includes policing.”

Harrington feared that unless the industry takes proactive action, the current debate would result in the same kind of regulation that led to the government’s Do-Not-Call list that enables consumers to permanently de-list themselves from telemarketing offers.

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