FTC to Host Town Hall to Examine Privacy Issues and Online Behavioral Advertising

For Release

The FTC will host a two-day Town Hall to bring together consumer advocates, industry representatives, technology experts, and academics to address the consumer protection issues raised by the practice of tracking consumers’ activities online to target advertising – or “behavioral advertising.” The Town Hall is a follow-on to a dialogue on behavioral advertising that emerged at a November 2006 FTC forum, “Tech-Ade,” which examined the key technological and business developments that will shape consumers’ core experiences in the coming decade. It will be held November 1-2, 2007 at the FTC Conference Center at 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. It is free and open to the public.

Online behavioral advertising involves the collection of information about a consumer’s activities online – including the searches the consumer has conducted, the Web pages visited, and the content the consumer has viewed. The information is then used to target advertising to the consumer that is intended to reflect the consumer’s interests, and thus increase the effectiveness of the advertising. The FTC examined similar issues in 2000, when it held a public workshop and issued two reports on the practice of online profiling. Technology advances and the evolution of business models since that time have raised concerns by consumer advocates, privacy experts, and others about the implications of data collection in online advertising now and in the future. Recently, several consumer privacy advocates, as well as the State of New York, sent letters to the FTC urging it to examine the effects of behavioral advertising on consumer privacy.

Topics at the Town Hall will include:

  • How does online behavioral advertising work? What types of companies play a role in this market?
  • What types of data are collected? Is the data personally identifiable or anonymous? Even when the data is anonymous, is it, or could it be, combined with personally identifiable data from other sources?
  • How is the data used, and by whom? Is it shared or sold? Is the data used for any purposes other than to target advertising?
  • How has the online advertising market, and specifically behavioral advertising, changed since 2000?
  • What security protections are companies providing for the consumer data that they collect, use, transfer, or store?
  • What do consumers understand about the collection of their information online for use in advertising?
  • Are companies disclosing their online data-collection practices to consumers? Are these disclosures an appropriate and effective way to inform the public about these practices? Are companies offering consumers choices about how data is collected and used?
  • What standards do, or should, govern practices related to online behavioral advertising? Are companies following the Network Advertising Initiative Principles, originally issued in 2000 for online network advertising companies? Are these principles still relevant, in light of changes in the marketplace? What other legal or self-regulatory standards are applicable to these practices? Are certain practices generally regarded as appropriate or inappropriate in this area?
  • What changes are anticipated in the online behavioral advertising market over the next five years? Will information be collected through technological means other than cookies? Is behavioral advertising moving beyond the Internet into other technologies?

The Commission invites interested parties to submit requests to be panelists and to recommend other topics for discussion. The requests should be submitted electronically to behavioraladvertising_requests@ftc.gov by September 14, 2007. The Commission asks interested parties to include a statement detailing their expertise on the issues to be addressed at the Town Hall and complete contact information. The Commission will select panelists based on expertise and the need to represent a range of views about the issues. Panelists selected to participate will be notified by October 5, 2007.

Any person also may submit written comments on the topics to be addressed at the Town Hall. Comments may be submitted via e-mail to behavioraladvertising_comments@ftc.gov or by mail to Secretary, Federal Trade Commission, Room H-135 (Annex N), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Comments must be received by October 19, 2007.

A government-issued photo ID is required for entry to the event. Members of the public and press who wish to participate but who cannot attend can view a live Webcast of the Town Hall on the FTC’s Web site. Pre-registration is not required. For further information, please consult the FTC Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/ehavioral/index.shtml.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181
STAFF CONTACT:
Jessica Rich or Richard A. Quaresima
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2252 or 202-326-3130