FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 13, 2000
CONTACT INFORMATION BELOW
PRIVACY ADVOCATES AGAIN CALL FOR FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION TO HALT ONLINE PROFILING
Groups Say Privacy-Invasive Practices Have Grown Worse and More Prevalent
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Privacy advocates today repeated their call made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year to halt online profiling by Internet advertisers pending the development of a proper legislative framework. As the FTC testifies today on the issue before the Senate Commerce Committee, advocates said that legal protections for online consumers are well overdue, and that the lack of robust privacy protection is widely agreed to be stunting the growth of ecommerce. The groups maintain that industry "self-regulation" is inadequate to prevent invasions of privacy, especially in the advertising business.
Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) today told the Senate Commerce Committee that legislation is urgently needed to protect the privacy of individuals online. The same groups made a similar call at a public workshop on November 8, held jointly by the FTC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce (NTIA). The workshop discussed "online profiling" -- the collection of information from individuals to create targeted Internet advertising. Since that time online advertiser DoubleClick Inc. completed its merger with Abacus Direct, which holds profiles on the offline behavior of 88 million American households. The company has been the subject of scrutiny by the FTC and state attorneys general, including Michigan and New York.
At the NTIA workshop in November an industry lobby group called the Network Advertising Initiative was formed to write ``self-regulatory guidelines'' to try to stave off legislation. Privacy advocates called the schemes unsatisfactory, citing the failure of a similar scheme called the Individual Reference Services Group to stop the harmful trade in Social Security numbers.
Jason Catlett, President of Junkbusters Corp., pointed to the enormous growth in the number of ``Web bugs'' used by online advertisers to track people's movements the Web, even on pages that contain no advertising. ``If people discovered that hidden video cameras were being installed every few street corners to read in their license plate numbers, there would be a revolution. But the Web is being bugged to comparable level by these online profilers. People should be protected from this surreptitious surveillance and the hundreds of millions of secret electronic dossiers that are being built from it.''
Evan Hendricks, Editor of Privacy Times, said ``A consensus is rapidly building that the U.S. needs comprehensive privacy legislation. The idea that only certain kinds of personal information need legal protection should be left behind in the 20th century.''
Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center, for Media Education, said ``The availability of highly detailed profiles will give advertisers unfair advantages in the marketing of products, impacting consumer choice and informed decision-making. I believe that, in particular, special policies are necessary to protect children, adolescents, and youth.''
Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher of the Privacy Journal, suggested that consumers can prevent some data collection by turning off "cookies," a tracking mechanism that plays a key role in online profiling. He also recommended staying away from commercial websites until there are adequate privacy protections in place.
For more information on the hearings and the history of this issue,
see http://www.junkbusters.com/news/ or http://www.epic.org on the Web.
Center for Media Education
Contact: Jeff Chester, Executive Director, (202) 331-7833
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Contact: Sarah Andrews, Policy Analyst, (202) 483-1140
Contact: Jason Catlett, President, (908) 753-7861
Contact: Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher, (401) 274-7861
Contact: Evan Hendricks, Editor, (202) 829-3660
Two conference calls will be held with leading advocates from the groups.
(Not all speakers will be available on all calls.)
· Tuesday July 13, 2pm EST
· Wednesday July 14, 11am EST
Call (918) 222-7123, wait for tone, enter 2350 followed by the pound sign.