Patrick Romero, CIPP
It appears that Congress is finally going to get involved in the regulation of behavioral targeting by internet companies. Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), head of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, says he and others plan to introduce comprehensive online privacy legislation in the coming congressional session. The law would require companies to collect the share the surfing habits of consumers only if individuals opt-in to the monitoring.
The issue of online behavioral tracking by online search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, for advertising purposes has been gained significant attention. Earlier this year, the FTC held an open forum on how to develop industry best practices in order to ensure the privacy of online consumers. While there was hope that the industry would police itself, it appears that eventually there will be some Congressional oversight as to what information can be collected from users online.
The lack of transparency that is the current model among online advertisers has proven to be problematic. Consumer and privacy organizations have stated that individuals should always have to opt-in whenever their personal information is being gathered and they should always be aware of any monitoring of their online activity. Recent incidents have proven this to be true. Facebook recently faced public backlash when it set up its beacon program through an opt-out policy. The company was forced to issue a public apology and is currently being sued by its members for violating their privacy.
Industry leaders have been hoping that federal legislation will not be needed. However, companies continue to expand their ability to collect and monitor the information of internet users without clear policies protecting consumer privacy. It appears now that Congress will finally get on the bandwagon and clear the fog on the rules of online surveillance.