Cross-Device Tracking Could Be Next Privacy Target in DC

Sen. Markey asks FTC to open investigation into device fingerprinting

The relatively new practice of tracking consumers across their digital devices in order to serve up more relevant advertising is beginning to draw scrutiny among Washington policymakers.

Called digital fingerprinting, the practice was developed to compensate for the absence of cookies in the mobile environment. Though the practice is relatively new, it's beginning to take hold as a new way to deliver targeted ads. That's raising more than a few eyebrows in Washington among privacy advocates, who worry that advertisers may be using technology to prey on unsuspecting consumers.

After reading a New York Times article about how companies like Drawbridge, Flurry and InMobi are building consumer profiles based on digital behavior across multiple devices, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) became alarmed about the implications for consumer privacy.

In a letter to Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Markey called for an investigation.

"Such tracking envelopes users in a digital environment where marketers know their preferences and personal information no matter which device they use while consumers are kept largely in the dark," wrote Markey in the letter.

The FTC has become the go-to agency for consumer privacy issues. The agency is already working on a report based on its investigation of the data collection practices of data brokers and plans to hold a workshop later this year on what is being called the "Internet of things," such as connected refrigerators and cars.