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FTC Proposes New Legislation to Protect Against Targeted Advertising
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In a report released Monday entitled “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” the Federal Trade Commission is calling on Congress to set legislation to grant citizens access to how online companies are profiling them. Online giants such as Google and YouTube build and sell profiles of how consumers use the web, in order to create targeted advertising directed at their preferences. The FTC is responding to Obama’s call for a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” and seeks to redress such abuses as the misuse of personal information that may be outmoded or plain wrong. The new legislation aims to let consumers access and dispute information about themselves.

The FTC’s proposal is being criticized for a number of reasons. “If implemented as written, many of the Report’s recommendations would instead apply to almost all firms and to most information collections practices,” warned FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch, who voted was the one dissenting vote 3-1 of the report’s decision. “It would install ‘Big Brother’ as the watchdog over these practices not only in the online world but in the offline.” He also criticized the FTC for ignoring the poll that showed that “84% of users prefer targeted advertising in exchange for free online content.”

In a similar vein, Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, admits that “The harvesting and sale – often in real-time – of our valuable data, including about our financial and health interests, poses a major threat to consumers. The FTC’s call for legislation is a digital wake-up call to Congress,” but nevertheless found the FTC’s self-regulation stipulations “disappointing,” saying, “We call on the FTC to specifically spell out how to ensure consumers have meaningful ‘choice’ to control the collection and use of their information. The commission’s overall support for industry self-regulation is disappointing, and reveals a FTC still too often constrained from effectively protecting the public.

  
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