Skip Links

Groups file FTC complaint over cell phone privacy

By Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld
January 13, 2009 07:40 PM ET

Computerworld - You may not know it yet, but your cell phone is becoming the new battleground in the war between consumer rights groups and the behavioral advertising community.

The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate what the groups claimed were escalating privacy threats posed to consumers by advertisers targeting mobile users.

In a 52-page complaint the two groups claimed that advertisers had begun to migrate to the mobile world many of the same consumer data collection, profiling and behavioral

The CDD's executive director, Jeffrey Chester, told Computerworld that in the process, important privacy issues related to disclosure, collection and use were being overlooked. "The mobile phone is a very powerful surveillance tool," Chester said, "But the average user has no idea what information is being collected, how it is being used or shared [by advertisers.]"

That's why it is important for the FTC to launch an immediate investigation into the privacy implications of targeted advertising in the mobile marketplace, Chester said. He said the focus should be on identifying practices that threaten privacy, on the opt-in and opt-out procedures available to consumers, and the disclosure that is made available to them.

Focus also needs to be on ensuring that mobile ads meet minimum standards in terms of relaying information that helps consumers make informed decisions, Chester said. This is especially necessary when it comes to mobile ads involving health care-related or financial products, as well as those directed at specific demographics such as teenagers or ethnic minorities, he said.

It was unlikely "that many users fully understand the privacy implications of every discount coupon, free download, or ringtone offer that comes their way," the two groups wrote in their FTC petition.

The complaint comes at a time when advertisers are busy deploying what the CDD and PIRG described as a "dizzying array" of branded marketing applications for mobile platforms. Increasingly marketers are using rich media applications, mobile video, branded portal sites, and direct-response micro-sites to deliver customized marketing messages to mobile users, the groups said in their FTC petition.

Several technologies are currently available to marketers that permit targeted and "device-optimized insertion of any type of advertising -- such as images, videos and logos," on any type of mobile consumer application, it noted.

A spokesman for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a trade body representing online advertisers from the media and technology space, today said that it will take a look at the FTC petition to "see if it has any merit." The IAB is one of four marketing and advertising industry associations which today announced a joint initiative to develop guidelines to tackle privacy concerns related to online behavioral advertising practices.

Our Commenting Policies
Latest News
rssRss Feed
View more Latest News