FTC Urges Marketers to Self-regulate Consumer Privacy – or Else.

February 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

I still wake-up nights haunted by a telephone call we got at home sometime early last year. It was evening, around 7:00 p.m., and my wife and I were cooking dinner and having a glass of wine. The telephone rings. I answer. “Hello, George,” the caller said boldly (my first name is George, but I never use it; so when someone addresses me as George, I know we’re not on a first name basis), “This is Mitt Romney and I am calling to ask for your support next week in the primary election. This year, the stakes have…” Who knows what came later. I hung-up. I turned to my wife and explained. “How did he do that?” she asked. “Your name and everything?” Good question, especially since we had long since registered on the “Do Not Call” list with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

So, interesting that the FTC released guidelines yesterday that gave marketers room to self-regulate around the issue of consumer privacy, dangling the “R” word in plain sight to make it clear that if the industry can’t do something to stop all the calls and letters Government keeps getting from angry consumer advocates, then they will. I would like to register my desire to see the calls stop from Government (and candidates).

Most of the brouhaha about privacy points to online behavioral targeting. But honestly, I have never been bothered by an online marketer at home during dinner using my first name.  Most of us recognize that the grocery store down the street has more information about us, personally, than virtually any online behavior marketer, so – with apologies to Butch Cassidy –  what’s the matter with those guys? It is impossible for me to wrest control of my wife’s merchant cards from her hands. I would appreciate some help at the point-of-purchase heading-off future mailings and offers. It would save a ton in the “George” household.

One of the FTC commissioners, Pamela Jones Harbour, gets it, and according to the report on the subject in Ad Age this morning, she acknowledged and expressed concern that the FTC’s report was too narrowly focused on online advertising.

Burst offers behavior targeting as a standard component of its advertising sales product lines and is rigorous about policing the privacy policies governing it and any other remarketing features we use relying on cookie data, all of which is non-personally identifiable. Behavior targeting is a great tool for extending the reach of relevant campaigns against a target audience. Our business relies as much on contextual advertising (e.g. Travel advertising on Travel web sites), which the FTC said does not pose a problem and is not covered by the principals in their report. Good to know in case they invoke the “R “word down the road, but as a consumer I would be more interested to know what the FTC can do about keeping Mitt Romney from calling me at home.

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