Are Self-Regulatory Principles Enough to Protect Consumers From Web Advertising?

The FTC, in a new report issued yesterday, has endorsed self-regulation as a means of protecting consumer privacy in the fast-growing sector of targeted, online advertising.

Among a hoard of suggestions, the FTC said companies should:

collect sensitive, personal data for behavioral advertising only after obtaining express consent from consumers. Needless to say, opt-in marketing to obtain such data is a no-brainer, but in the world we live in today, what consumer will ever feel secure enough giving such information, and permission, over to a company.

I anticipate this issue will only become bigger and bigger, as future advertisers will continue to rely heavily on their ability to tap into vast amounts of digital information.

Some have argued that simply promoting self-regulation isn’t enough, and I can understand where they’re coming from. The online marketplace has become so dynamic that protecting consumer’s rights have become difficult. Laws enacted a few years ago are already obsolete. The pace at which technology advances means that online marketing continues to become more pervasive; the technology more and more advanced.

That said, in the end it’s in marketers’ best interest to use self-regulation as a means to keep customers satisified. Marketing to consumers has been and I imagine always will be like walking a fine line. As history has proven, simply taking advantage of any and all information about a segment of targeted consumers to bombard them with irrelevant or mass-marketing messages isn’t worth its weight in gold in the end.