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The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop on December 6, 2012, to explore the practices and privacy implications of comprehensive collection of data about consumers’ online activities. Entities such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), operating systems, browsers, social media, and mobile carriers have the capability to collect data about computer users across the Internet, beyond direct interactions between consumers and these entities.  The workshop will bring together consumer protection organizations, academics, business and industry representatives, privacy professionals, and others to examine the collection and use of such data, its potential benefits, privacy concerns, and related issues.  The workshop is free and open to the public.

The comprehensive data collection workshop follows up on the FTC’s March 2012 report, Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change, which called on companies handling consumer data to implement recommendations for protecting consumers’ privacy, including privacy by design, providing simplified privacy choices to consumers, and greater transparency to consumers about data collection and use.  The report also set forth five action items that FTC staff would pursue in the following year, including this workshop to discuss the privacy issues raised by the collection and use of comprehensive data about consumers’ online activities by a range of entities, such as ISPs, operating systems, browsers, search engines, and social media.

ISPs serve as a gateway to the Internet for their customers and have access to large amounts of unencrypted data that their customers send and receive.  Browsers, operating systems, and social media also may be in the position to develop highly detailed and comprehensive profiles of their customers – and to do so in a manner that may be completely invisible to consumers.  This workshop will cover issues concerning comprehensive data collection beyond those discussed in previous FTC workshops on online behavioral advertising.

The workshop will explore topics including:

  • What methods are used to collect data about consumers’ activities across the Internet?
  • What are the benefits of comprehensive data collection and what are the possible privacy challenges?
  • Which entities are capable of comprehensive data collection, and which of them are doing so?
  • How aware are consumers of comprehensive data collection, and what are their attitudes toward it?
  • If companies implement comprehensive data collection, how can they effectively inform consumers about the collection and provide meaningful choice to consumers?
  • What privacy risks are created by serving as a host for third-party applications?
  • Are there sufficient choices among online products and services to give consumers meaningful options should they wish to avoid products or services that use comprehensive data collection?
  • What legal protections currently exist in this area?
  • What legal protections should be provided?

Individuals and organizations may submit requests to participate as panelists and may recommend topics for inclusion on the agenda.  The requests and recommendations can be submitted electronically to  Paper comments should be mailed or delivered to: 600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Room H-113 (Annex B), Washington, DC 20580. Prospective panelists should submit a statement detailing their expertise on the issues to be addressed and contact information no later than November 2, 2012.  Panelists will be selected based on expertise and the need to include a broad range of views.

The workshop will be held at the FTC's satellite building conference center, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are available upon request. Requests should be submitted via email to or by calling Samantha Konstandt at 202-326-3348. Requests should be made in advance. Please include a detailed description of the accommodation needed, and provide contact information.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers 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, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.  Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs

David Lincicum
Bureau of Consumer Protection