We recently saw a fellow diner reach across the cafeteria soup station until splat! His phone fell out of his shirt pocket and into the minestrone. But even before he ladled out his soup-logged smartphone, he reached into his bag and took out his tablet. As consumers have come to rely on multiple devices, companies are using technologies to connect a consumer’s activity across those devices – smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and more. It’s called cross-device tracking and the FTC just released a staff report on the subject.
Drawing on an earlier FTC workshop, the report discusses the benefits and the challenges associated with technologies that enable cross-device tracking. On the upside, there’s the convenience of a seamless experience across multiple devices. Another plus is improved fraud detection on consumer accounts.
But there are challenges, too. Are consumers aware of the practice? Are they able to choose how their cross-device activity is tracked? And what about security concerns when companies collect and aggregate data about the sites people visit and the apps they use, often alongside personal information?
Read the report for the full picture, but here is a summary of some staff recommendations:
- Transparency. FTC staff calls on anyone engaged in cross-device tracking – both cross-device tracking companies and consumer-facing entities – to truthfully disclose their tracking activities. With meaningful information in hand, consumers are in a better position to evaluate their options.
- Choice. Companies should offer consumers choices about how their cross-device activity is tracked. It goes without saying that if consumers are told they can opt out of tracking, companies must honor that promise.
- Special considerations for sensitive data. For certain categories of sensitive data – for example, health, financial, or children’s information – the staff recommends not tracking consumers without their express affirmative consent. In addition, the report recommends that companies refrain from collecting and sharing precise geolocation information without that same level of consent.
- Security. Consistent with the message businesses have been hearing for years, the staff report recommends that companies practice good data hygiene to avoid unauthorized access, including by hackers in the case of a data breach.
- Periodic reassessment of technologies and practices. FTC staff recommends that companies periodically reassess their practices as technology evolves and simplify consent choices whenever possible.