Senate Begins Discussing Privacy Implications of Online Advertising

Privacy is increasingly becoming a topic of discussion in the world of online advertising. As new tools emerge to target advertising based on user behavior as well as provide social relevance, privacy is becoming a critical issue. Whether it’s the tracking of users via cookies or the monitoring of their activities throughout “the social graph”, we are in a new era in which the lines between personal and public lives have become blurred if not eliminated.

Today, Chris Kelly, the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook spoke to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about the “Privacy Implications of Online Advertising.” A full transcript of Chris Kelly’s testimony is available on the Senate’s website. On the topic of differentiating between personally identifiable information and non-personally identifiable information, Chris Kelley stated:

The critical distinction that we embrace in our policies and practices, and that we want our users to understand, is between the use of personal information for advertisements in personally-identifiable form, and the use, dissemination, or sharing of information with advertisers in non-personally-identifiable form. Ad targeting that shares or sells personal information to advertisers (name, email, other contact oriented information) without user control is fundamentally different from targeting that only gives advertisers the ability to present their ads based on aggregate data.

Chris Kelly also gave an overview of Facebook’s SocialAds and their Beacon program. From the initial glance at this hearing, there is not much significant revealed. What is clear is that the govenment is actively involved in discussing the privacy of internet users and this arrives at a critical time. Advertising networks are racing to develop systems that target users based on their friends and activities and in some cases it is pushing the limits of privacy standards.

I frequently discuss the privacy of social network users on this site and the implications that these new advertising systems have in regards to their privacy. It is excellent to see that the govenment is quickly to discuss what it taking place. Personally, I hope that we see a global set of privacy standards and rights developed in the near future.

I’d imagine that one day we will have an enforcement organization that monitors the activities of many of these companies.