Industry Shows Its Power in Debate Over Online Privacy

FTC believes self-regulation is the answer for now

Despite the government’s best efforts to take control of the online and mobile privacy debate, it seems it’s the Internet advertising community that will have the upper hand in shaping policy in the near future.

The Federal Trade Commission and Commerce Department each released reports recommending “baseline privacy legislation” to codify an Internet privacy bill of rights. But the agencies failed to endorse any specific bill or approach, leaving self-regulation as the de facto solution.

“The industry has implemented everything the FTC has asked for over the last three years,” said Stu Ingis, a partner with Venable who represents the Digital Advertising Alliance. “There is no doubt the industry’s self-regulation program has taken hold.”

The DAA committed to extending the AdChoices program—which informs consumers when online ads are targeted—to incorporate do-not-track tools on Web browsers by the end of the year.

Privacy advocates expressed disappointment that the reports from the FTC and Commerce didn’t take a more aggressive stance toward advertisers. “They were short on specifics. The FTC is still afraid of tangling with the industry,” lamented Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.