On November 16, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") held a workshop in Washington D.C. titled "Cross-Device Tracking: An FTC Workshop." The workshop focused on the technology behind cross-device linking, as well as emerging policy initiatives around the issue. Chairwoman Edith Ramirez opened the event, after which two panels discussed technological advances, consumer benefits, potential privacy and data security risks, and the role of industry self-regulatory programs as they relate to cross-device linking.
Chairwoman Ramirez opened the workshop by highlighting various consumer benefits to cross-device linking, including customized user experiences and security and fraud prevention. She also noted that the rise in wearable and mobile technology has allowed companies to leverage several data streams to create more robust consumer profiles. She discussed various challenges presented by cross-device linking, such as transparency and control related to consumer privacy, and advocated for data minimization and enhanced data security. The FTC praised the Digital Advertising Alliance's ("DAA") recent guidance on how its self-regulatory principles apply to cross-device linking, and warned that the FTC will continue to monitor for deceptive and unfair practices in the space.12
After a brief presentation of an overview of cross-device linking, the panels first discussed the technological process for linking and then the policy ramifications of the technique. The technology panel focused on how companies may associate devices with a consumer, either through "deterministic" techniques involving login credentials or "probabilistic" techniques based on inferences made from device information like IP address and browsing behavior. The panel also discussed ways that companies could protect consumer information, such as hashing, and how the industry has developed self-regulatory principles to place certain restrictions on data retention.
The policy panel focused on broader policy issues raised by cross-device linking. Genie Barton of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which administers one of the DAA's Accountability Programs, noted that the DAA's Principles provide consumers with meaningful notice and control related to data collection and use. She continued to highlight that the DAA's self-regulatory approach produced guidance that provides for transparency and control related to cross-device linking. Other panel members stated that consumer education around cross-device practices is needed, and that consumers want to understand what happens to data about their devices. Ms. Barton noted that when consumers learn about interest-based advertising, and their ability to opt out of such practices, consumers tend to choose to continue to participate.