FTC happy to let online ads self-regulate

The US Federal Trade Commission has backed away from regulating online advertising, giving websites the freedom to target consumers with increasingly

The US Federal Trade Commission has backed away from regulating online advertising, giving websites the freedom to target consumers with increasingly sophisticated behavioural advertising.

The four principles include: transparency and control (disclosing when behavioural ads are being used and being to opt out); reasonable security (encrypting and disposing of customer data); keeping up to date (not changing their policy without notice); and obtaining express consent for using sensitive personal data.

All very high-minded and reasonable, we can agree. Except that in the same breath, the FTC declined to regulate or enforce these principles - instead encouraging industry to 'redouble its efforts' in developing self-regulatory programmes. It finished with a plea that 'more needs to be done to educate consumers about online behavioral advertising and provide effective protections for consumers' privacy,' without specifying how, when or by whom.

If that wasn't washing its hands cleanly enough of the matter, the FTC also said that first party advertising (by and for a single website) and contextual advertising (advertising based on a consumer's current visit to a single web page or a single search query) should be exempt from its principles altogether.

Basically, then, the sites that are capable of implementing the most advanced and intrusive behavioural ads (the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the online world) can do what they want, while everyone else should follow four vaguely-worded principles enforced by no one.

There, don't you feel safer now?