Childrens’ Digital Privacy Advocates Show FTC Watchdogs Aren’t Woofin

congress logoJune 18, 2009 Here we go again. I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day having deja vu that we’ve ‘been there done that’ all over again.  Oh, that’s right. We HAVE.

Over a decade ago, Jeff Chester, executive director of Center for Digital Democracy played a leading role in the passage of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998)…Since then, he’s followed up with three complaints filed by CDD and USPIRG (U.S. Public Interest Research Group) about the FTC’s lack of oversight including: This 2006 version regarding online advertising…This 2007 supplemental statement…And this 2009 mobile marketing and privacy practices complaint. Needless to say, he’s been at this for awhile…

Gee, if only the FTC were as tenacious. (instead of minor hand-swats and ‘self-regulatory’ reminders) As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, stealthy data snatching, unauthorized tracking of buying behaviors and personal information may finally be getting its ‘come-uppins’ as consumer advocates lock on for the long haul making inroads in the privacy protection arena, unappreciative of being guinea pigs for neuroscience and ‘e-havioral’ profiling.

Is this to be our “Digital Destiny?” Seems up until today’s joint hearing, data miners have pretty much tossed understaffed FTC gatekeepers an indestructible Nylabone that “keeps on keepin’ on” no matter how many little scuffs, nicks and chomps consumer advocates take out of it to try to get policy watchdogs to please pay attention!

house logo

Things are changing. At  today’s hearing by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet Jeff Chester and other advocates called for a communications overhaul of personal privacy policies bringing the FTC’s Fair Information Practice Principles fully into the digital age.

I need to read his full testimony before commenting further on everything within the regulatory blast zone, but suffice it to say, it should rattle the ‘self-policing’ sabers of the double-edged media/marketing sword.

Chester said, “Whether using a search engine, watching an online video, creating content on a social network, receiving an email, or playing an interactive video game, we are being digitally shadowed online…Our travels through the digital media are being monitored, and digital dossiers on us are being created—and even bought and sold.”

“…Children and youth, among the most active users of the Internet and mobile devices, are especially at risk in this new media-marketing ecosystem…”

dora-greenMakes me think we need to send in Dora the Explorer to scold, “Swiper, no swiping!”

Seriously though (and this IS serious business) the more consumers rely on the internet for online banking, financial products, health information and other sensitive services, the more critical it is to be assured that online commerce is airtight so the fairness factor isn’t breached. (This was discussed at length at the Health 2.0 summit too, particularly with pre-existing conditions and treatment modality)

My favorite part of his release is the corollary with today’s economic mop up where he states what so many of us are thinking, in unabashed candor.

He points to the failure of the regulatory system that should have protected Americans from irresponsible business practices that led to the current financial crisis, and singles out behavioral and “predictive” targeting for their violations of user privacy:

“As with our financial system, privacy and consumer protection regulators have failed to keep abreast of developments in the area they are supposed to oversee…In order to ensure adequate trust in online marketing—an important and growing sector of our economy—Congress must enact sensible policies to protect consumers…”

…”Consumer profiling and targeted advertising take place largely without our knowledge or consent, and affects such sensitive areas as financial transactions and health-related inquiries…

mdimd-pop-up.pngAnd lest you think this is an “industry vs. non-industry” concern about youth privacy breaches, opt-outs and tool bar add-ons I’d point you back to this post I wrote about it, as well as some of advertising colleagues like Chris Abraham’s emphatic stance with “My Data is My Data” creating a plug-in awhile back to trump Facebook at it’s own game.

Loved it. Chris Abraham was also the whistle-blower/group creator of “FaceCrook” to address the auto-friend feed debacle now known as the “Beacon backlash”as  I wrote here in ‘Facebook: Your Peepin’ Is Creepin Me Out.’

So it’s not like this is a ‘parents/youth only’  concern…

mobilephoneThen there was this article I wrote on mobile marketing from Ypulse LAST year about ‘Harvesting Eyeballs’ —offering kids free text and mobile minutes  for ad views (at least Blyk is transparently offering something instead of swiping it!) And this one on teaching kids not to ‘give away the farm’ so to speak with best practices for kids’ profile settings.

Which reminds me, a friend recently joshed me about being “100 years old” on my profiles, and I responded, “Hey, when the ‘self-regulators’ in the industry start telling the truth, then I will too; it’s none of their dang business what my personal information is, unless I WANT them to know!!”

So you see, this goes way beyond ‘parenting’ minutiae or ‘protect the kids’ bubble-wrapping accusations, this is raw and real consumer protection of our most prized asset of personal privacy and freedom of choice.

We’re not saying we won’t give out data, we’re saying we as consumers want CONTROL of our OWN data. Jeff Chester summed:

“Americans shouldn’t have to trade away their privacy and accept online profiling and tracking as the price they must pay in order to access the Internet and other digital media…”

He added that the goosiness and hesitance of those of us not quite trusting of the digital encryption sphere (yes, I still hate to file my taxes online, much to my account’s chagrin) is actually an impediment to GROWTH in this sector, and purports that safeguards will actually jumpstart an increase in broader use of the digital economy. He said:

digital-destiny.jpg“The uncertainty over the loss of privacy and other consumer harms will continue to undermine confidence in the online advertising business,” he explained.

“That’s why the online ad industry will actually greatly benefit from privacy regulation.  Given a new regulatory regime protecting privacy, industry leaders and entrepreneurs will develop new forms of marketing services where data collection and profiling are done in an above-board, consumer-friendly fashion.”

Much to discuss…This “100 year old” media maven is off to read Jeff Chester’s full testimony on the Hill today, and to surf the hearing to find out the points of view from multiple camps.

So far, I like what I hear and think it’s loooooooong overdue that we control our own ‘digital destiny.’



  1. Debra Legg, one of my Facebook friends just posted this article about information/passwords being harvested by potential employers in Bozeman, Mt. wow…why would someone want to know every FB or MS piece of personal data? Then again…it goes to the ‘don’t post it if you don’t want to have it traceable to you’ privacy pragmatics…sigh. Digital fingerprints get complicated:

Speak Your Mind