Looking ahead to 2014, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host three spring seminars focused on consumer privacy and the implications of new technology.
In February the agency will kick off with a seminar on mobile-device tracking, a practice most notably employed by retailers that use the unique identifiers from consumer mobile devices to learn about their shopping habits such as the length of time they spend and the paths they take while in a store, and the frequency of their store visits.
Because this type of tracking is “invisible” to consumers, the FTC said it raises “a number of potential privacy concerns and questions.” The seminar will address issues such as the types of mobile-device tracking currently in use, the potential future uses of the technology, the possible parallels between mobile-device tracking and online tracking technologies, and the information and benefits gleaned by retailers from these practices.
In addition, the agency will examine whether consumers derive any benefits from the technology and how companies address the potential privacy and security risks associated with such tracking.
In March the FTC will turn its focus to “alternative scoring products.” With the ever-increasing amount of information available to data brokers, companies are using data to compile predictive scores to determine, among other things, whether sending a catalog to a consumer’s address will result in an in-store or online purchase, whether a woman is pregnant (and when she is due), and whether an individual’s Internet presence has influence over other consumers.
Again, the agency noted that consumers are often unaware of these scores and their implications. Participants will consider questions about the accuracy of the scores and the underlying data used to create them, whether legal protections exist for consumers with regard to predictive scoring, and whether consumers have access to their scores and the underlying data.
The third and final scheduled seminar – date to be determined – will address consumer-generated and controlled health data. Consumers are increasingly turning to technology for health-related issues, the FTC said, by researching health conditions online and uploading data to health-related apps.
Further, the agency will ask what, if any, steps companies take to protect users’ privacy and security and whether advertising networks or others impose any restrictions on the tracking of health information.
To read the FTC’s press release about the seminars, click here.
Why it matters: In its press release the FTC said the scheduled seminars “will shine a light on new trends in Big Data and their impact on consumer privacy.” For marketers the trifecta of workshops reinforces the importance of privacy as a primary agency focus. The seminar on mobile-device tracking will come as good news to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez earlier this year asking the agency to investigate the data tracking practices by major national retailers and expressing his concern that the collection of data means stores are “treating the consumers as products.”