Are digital marketers so good as to worry consumers?
The US-based Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), calling for an investigation into online advertising practices.
The groups, which claim to have consumers' interests in mind, asserted in their filing (click here) that the data collection and interactive marketing system that is shaping the US electronic marketplace is being built to aggressively track internet users wherever they go, creating data profiles for increasingly sophisticated and personalised one-to-one targeting programmes.
But is it really a threat? This may sound like a good thing to a marketer, but the groups are concerned about the eventual ramifications of such electronic tracking on personal data privacy. According to Jeff Chester, CDD's executive director, "The FTC should long ago have sounded a very public alarm - and called for action - concerning the data collection practices stemming from such fields as web analytics, online advertising networks, behavioural targeting, and rich 'virtual reality' media, all of which threaten the privacy of the US public."
Are digital policies inadequate? Current privacy disclosure policies, the two groups have warned, are "totally inadequate", failing to effectively inform users what information is being collected and how that information will be used. The groups also seem to be concerned about the collection and analysis of non-personal data (e.g. the order of web pages that an unidentifiable user views on their way through an e-commerce web site), although it's not clear what kind of threat this could pose to the public.
The groups are therefore calling on the FTC to take four initial steps:
- Launch an investigation into the online marketplace;
- Expose any practices that compromise user privacy;
- Issue injunctions to halt practices that abuse consumers;
- Craft policies - and recommend legislation - to prevent abuse.