Over eight million people were victims of identity theft last year, and overall losses from identity fraud topped $37 billion. BBB has responded to this problem with consumer education and action programs such as Secure Your Identity Day
and Protect Your Identity Week
However, in the past few years, a new worry has arisen. Information about you is collected as you surf around the Internet, and a profile of you is created to help target advertising so that you see ads that have the most appeal to you. Privacy concerns about the collection and use of your information without your knowledge and choice necessitated industry action.
Two years ago, BBB joined with six major advertising and marketing associations to create the Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising
. The core of the program is a set of seven principles - education, transparency, consumer control, data security, accountability and more - agreed to by all of the groups.
The Direct Marketing Association
incorporated the principles into their Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau
voted unanimously to incorporate the principles into its membership code of conduct. In addition to advising on the principles, BBB is the monitoring and compliance arm of this effort. Now, a bill pending in Congress would put the Federal Trade Commission in charge of policing online data collection. The proposed law would do much of what the industry is doing already, which is educating consumers and giving them choices about how much information to share, but would lack the flexibility to respond to Internet innovations and consumer privacy concerns.
I believe it is premature to call for legislation. It would take years for the FTC to promulgate regulations to implement a new law, and businesses would face uncertainty about how the law will affect them. In the meantime, the industry self-regulations already in place are protecting consumers right now.
The associations that created the Self-Regulatory Program represent the vast majority of the advertising and marketing industry. The principles in the agreement are the most comprehensive demonstration to date on the value these industries place on consumer trust.
Advertising pays for much of the free content we enjoy online. Responsible advertising and data collection will help ensure that content is available to us, and that media and software companies will have incentive to continue being creative and innovative in developing new products and services we will enjoy in the future.