DMA Politically Direct (Winter 2008): Consumer Privacy High on Capitol Hill's 2008 Agenda
March 5, 2008 — The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) expects the 2008 presidential election to heavily influence the second year of the Congress’ 110th session, making the passage of any controversial legislation more difficult.
At the same time, consumer protection legislation may become highly popular this election-year session, because of its positive perception among voters. Consequently, DMA anticipates that Congress will take up consumer privacy protection and identity (ID) theft prevention legislation prior to the November elections.
DMA believes this public debate is likely to include Social Security number protection, spyware, data security and data breach notification, and Internet privacy. DMA cautions members that each of these issues could have a devastating impact on US multichannel marketers.
‘Do Not Track’ Registry
In October 2007, just prior to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) town hall meeting on "Ehavioral Advertising," privacy protection advocates petitioned the agency to create a "Do Not Track" registry that would prevent online advertisers from monitoring the habits of website users. This call for a no-track registry — along with the Google-DoubleClick merger and Microsoft’s moves on Yahoo — will translate into greater scrutiny by Congress and federal agencies.
Do Not Track proponents say the proposal is designed to protect the privacy of consumers who don’t want marketers to monitor the sites they visit. But DMA points out that marketers, in turn, could lose an important tool in delivering highly relevant marketing solicitations — commercial and nonprofit — to consumers.
DMA is strongly opposed to the creation of a Do Not Track list and is, as it has been historically, a vigorous advocate for self-regulation in the consumer privacy arena.
Reacting to the Do Not Track proposal, DMA Executive Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Government Affairs Steven K. Berry said, "it would significantly undermine the successful business model of the Internet by limiting benefits to consumers, stifling innovation, and eliminating the valuable and effective ad-supported free content that citizens now expect. It remains overwhelmingly clear that the great majority of Americans embrace relevant marketing."
FTC’s Behavioral Advertising Privacy Principles
To address consumer privacy concerns associated with online behavioral advertising, FTC staff in December 2007 released a set of proposed principles to guide the development of self-regulation in this evolving area.
Behavioral advertising is the tracking of consumers’ activities online — including the searches the consumer has conducted, Web pages visited, and content viewed — in order to deliver advertising pertinent to the individual consumer’s interests.
DMA is leading members of the business community in a coordinated effort to address this issue through self-regulation rather then government regulation.
In fact, the FTC’s proposed principles closely follow the DMA guidelines for online marketing, which were introduced in 1999. DMA’s ethical guidelines, which are amended to reflect changing technology and consumer expectations, today cover the collection, use, notice, and sharing of data with others, and requires further restrictions for more sensitive data.
Working with DMA members, the Association will file comments with the FTC before the comment period closes on April 11, 2008.
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