May 27, 2011 — As Congress considers six pieces of pending legislation introduced to protect consumers’ privacy online – all but one of which recommends mandatory “Do Not Track” provisions – the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation last week held a hearing to discuss whether Do Not Track also should be expanded to mobile device marketing.
“I think anyone who uses a mobile device has an expectation of privacy, and sadly that expectation is not always being met,” Committee Chairman Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.) said in a statement. “As smart phones become more powerful, more personal information is being concentrated in one place. These devices are not really phones—they are miniature computers.”
Testifying before the Committee, David C. Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that mobile device applications and ads that allow for the collection of consumer information “need to provide meaningful disclosure in a small screen environment” to prevent the invisible collection and sharing of consumer data with multiple partners.
Vladeck commended Rockefeller and fellow committee member Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for the two consumer privacy bills they have introduced. “Although the [FTC] has not taken a position on whether to recommend legislation in this area, the Commission strongly supports the goals of Sen. Rockefeller’s Do Not Track legislation and supports the approach laid out in that bill,” Vladeck said. Kerry’s bill does not call for a Do Not Track mechanism.
He added that the Commission “is committed to protecting consumers in the mobile sphere through law enforcement and by working with industry and consumer groups to develop workable solutions that protect consumers while allowing innovation.”
Acknowledging that industry is trying to self-regulate online behavioral advertising both online and in mobile device marketing, Vladeck indicated that the adoption of self-regulation has been rather slow. “Until advertisers agree to be bound by [self-regulation] – actually signing up and making this happen – I think the business community knows that at some point, sooner or later, there will be a Do Not Track requirement,” he told the Senate Committee.
“Whether we are conducting marketing activities online or through mobile device apps, industry must get its act together and begin self-regulation – quickly and in large numbers – if we are going to mandatory Do Not Track regulation,” said Coalition for Healthcare Communication Executive Director John Kamp. “We can’t ‘wait and see’ any longer – the time to get on board is now.”
The Coalition opposes mandatory Do Not Track provisions and believes that consumer privacy and robust Internet commerce is better served by self-regulation (www.AboutAds.com) that enables easy consumer opt-outs of unwanted tracking and marketing.