FTC to Web Advertisers: Police Yourselves, or We'll Do it For You

ftc-logo.pngThat was the subtext of the message the Federal Trade Commission delivered to Web advertisers, in particular with relation to ads that track consumer behavior. According to Reuters:

FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said Internet advertisers should tell consumers that information was being gathered, give them a choice to opt out, and protect any data collected.

While there is nothing particularly new about the advertising technologies the FTC is worried about, Washington seems to be just waking up to the privacy implications of how ads are served to consumers across the Web. As election year approaches, expect to hear a lot more sabre-rattling on this issue.

AOL’s announcement on Wednesday to let people opt out of having its advertising systems place cookies on their browsers was conveniently timed for the day before the hearing. Calls for an industry-wide do-not-track list are also picking up. A do-not-track list is a good idea. Not that it would ever be enforceable. But opt-out systems are preferable to someone at the FTC deciding which advertising tactics are acceptable and which ones are not. Ultimately, the market should reward the advertising platforms that produce the most relevant ads, which are good for both advertisers and consumers. And if people want to opt out of these system altogether, well that is a market signal also.