NAI Could Get Blasted Tomorrow at FTC Showdown

Expect the Network Advertising Initiative to be a target of some privacy advocates present at tomorrow’s Federal Trade Commission Town Hall event. Specifically, a representative of the World Policy Forum warned today the group will release a critical analysis of what they believe to be the NAI’s unsuccessful attempt at industry self-regulation.

As for the rest of the first day, while listening in to the webcast, I couldn’t help but be reminded of tuning in to my favorite New York baseball talk radio show last night. An insipid caller decided to describe to the audience in the most laborious manner possible what he planned to tell us, rather than simply launching right into his comment.

That’s kind of what today’s Town Hall felt like. There were a lot of statements prefaced with phrases like, “what we need to discuss is…” or “what I hope we can focus on during the next two days is….”

Sure, the FTC is holding the event in order to help determine what the most common and important concerns are surrounding behavioral targeting, Internet tracking, and data collection and usage by convening the industry, its observers and its critics (more than 300 in attendance, according to an FTC source). And, while major themes emerged, including consumer control of data, data security, transparency in terms of data usage, and the effects or behavioral targeting on youth, I’m still not too sure if I learned anything new.

FTC Hints About Behavioral Investigation
I assume the FTC commissioners may have learned things, or at least are closer to pinpointing exactly what it is they might focus on, if indeed they do decide to investigate the BT industry.

Will they? Well, early in the day, FTC commissioner Jon Liebowitz did hint, “The marketplace alone may not be able to solve all problems inherent in behavioral marketing….If we see problems…the commission won’t hesitate to bring cases, or even break thumbs,” he jested. (Really, though, he did chuckle after he mad the mob gag).

On Google/DoubleClick
Liebowitz also stressed (as did Google’s Manager, Global Communications and Public Affairs Adam Kovacevich did in an e-mail to the press this afternoon), that the FTC can only address whether the acquisition would affect industry competition, not privacy issues.

Google ad man Tim Armstrong said during the forum he hopes the FTC will “tread lightly,” and stated “I think we’re a very small fish in a big pond in the display advertising business in general….We would want to be able to be compete in the display business.”

Representative Markey Makes a Mark
Just in time for the conference, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a statement recommending the FTC “promptly investigate” what he called “invasive online advertising practices.” Specifically, he said, “When consumers search for information online, they may be unaware of marketers in their wake, who are scooping up the digital traces of consumers’ online activities and compiling profiles that could undermine privacy.”

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