Regulating consumer profiling : going beyond behavioral advertising
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The following report is an examination of consumer tracking and profiling in the United States. The paper presents perspectives on the current discussion surrounding regulation of consumer tracking. It begins with an explanation of the evolution of tracking technologies and tracking prevention tools. This is followed by a discussion of the outcomes of self-regulatory initiatives, as well as existing regulatory efforts from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and standardization initiatives from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This background information is used to examine “specialty consumer reporting agency” Web sites, information brokers that exist solely to create profiles about individuals and sell these profiles online. This research presents a content analysis of privacy policies for 29 of these Web sites. Specifically, the content analysis focuses on the legal language they use in their presentation of Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) disclaimers, the listed sources of their information, and their instructions for users to correct or remove their information. The conclusion from the findings is that many of these Web sites are engaging in deceptive practices as defined by the FTC. As a solution, the FTC could enforce FCRA requirements on these Web sites by requiring that consumers be able to access this information, dispute inaccurate information, understand how their information is gathered and used, and opt out of having a profile completely. The FTC also can create a centralized Web site where specialty consumer reporting agencies identify themselves to consumers, describe how they collect and use consumer data, and detail the access rights and other choices they provide with respect to the consumer data they maintain. Finally, the paper concludes with a summary of online privacy initiatives in the European Union, and an explanation of the requirements of United States compliance with these policies when taking part in the European marketplace.