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FTC's Ohlhausen Favors Privacy Self-Regulation

Commissioner's DAA keynote endears her to ad community

Photo: Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen sees no need for Congress to pass new laws to protect consumer privacy from targeted advertising.

“I do not agree with everything in the FTC’s report that calls for baseline privacy legislation,” Ohlhausen said to about 100 attendees at the Digital Advertising Alliance’s first summit in Washington on Wednesday. In fact, Ohlhausen said she was “amused and frustrated by some of the voices in the [privacy] debate.”

Ohlhausen’s speech was music to the ears of the advertising and marketing organizations, which have been fighting off repeated calls by privacy groups and some policymakers for new privacy laws, especially so-called Do Not Track bills like the one sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

The DAA’s self-regulation program “is one of the great success stories in the [privacy] space,” Ohlhausen said.

In her keynote address, Ohlhausen stressed that the FTC has all the authority it needs now to enforce consumer privacy cases where consumers suffer financial, health or safety harms, or where companies fail to live up to their own privacy policies.

As consumers have become more concerned about their privacy online, the marketplace—with a little nudge from the FTC—has moved to meet the demand.

“Consumers should have options that comport with their privacy preferences and many companies are developing products that cater to consumers’ heightened privacy concerns,” Ohlhausen said, mentioning Ghostery as one example. (Ghostery tracks the companies that track web users.)

What’s missing from the privacy debate, Ohlhausen said, is a discussion of how privacy regulation could impact competition in the digital marketplace.

“I am concerned the commission’s report did not address competition effects, including reducing the flow of information in the marketplace,” Ohlhausen said. “Advertising—however tasteless and excessive it might sometime seem—is useful information. The free flow of commercial information is indispensable.”

Ohlhausen, who repeatedly singled out the DAA’s self-regulation privacy program cautioned that “self-regulation should operate without undue government involvement. We want to make sure consumers have access to information, not cut it off.”
 

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