FTC plans study of cross-device tracking and consumer privacy

By Jim O'Neill on Mar 18 2015 at 6:15 AM
FTC plans study into cross-device tracking and consumer privacy

Forecasts say there will be 2 billion smartphones in use globally by the end of this year and estimate that 83% of Internet usage will be from mobile devices. Add wearables, tablets and game consoles to the mix and it’s obvious that the explosion of devices has created challenges for marketers hoping to reach consumers with relevant, targeted advertising. The conundrum: Privacy.

Those privacy issues become a bigger factor as marketers track consumers across a growing number of devices, and it’s drawing the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which is planning to start digging into the topic with a workshop on Nov. 16 in Washington, DC.

Traditionally, cookies have been used to track users online experience. But, they don’t provide a complete picture across devices, or when a consumer who uses different web browsers at home, at work and on their mobile device, for example.

“More consumers are connecting with the internet in different ways, and industry has responded by coming up with additional tools to track their behavior,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “With the advent of new tracking methods, though, it’s important to ensure that consumers’ privacy remains protected as businesses seek to target them across multiple devices.”

The FTC points out that the industry has adopted different approaches to address this issue, from simply having consumers log in to be able to use a site or service from a different device, to methods that rely on various characteristics about a user to match their behavior from one device to another – often without the consumers’ awareness or control.

The November workshop will address a number of questions about the potential benefits to consumers of effective cross-device tracking, as well as to examine the potential privacy and security risks. Among them:

  • What are the different types of cross-device tracking, how do they work, and what are they used for?
  • What types of information and benefits do companies gain from using these technologies?
  • What benefits do consumers derive from the use of these technologies?
  • What are the privacy and security risks associated with the use of these technologies?
  • How can companies make their tracking more transparent and give consumers greater control over it?
  • Do current industry self-regulatory programs apply to different cross device tracking techniques?

Stay tuned.

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