Advocacy Groups Rally FTC About Mobile Marketing

An FTC town hall meeting about mobile ads and consumer protection was held yesterday, where two leading advocacy groups filed complaints regarding several mobile marketing practices. Most notably, location-based marketing, where advertisers know a user’s exact location, was brought under fire. Jeff Chester, founder and...

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An FTC town hall meeting about mobile ads and consumer protection was held yesterday, where two leading advocacy groups filed complaints regarding several mobile marketing practices. Most notably, location-based marketing, where advertisers know a user’s exact location, was brought under fire.

Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, along with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group combined efforts to rally the FTC for more guidelines when it comes to behavioral targeting in general. The groups argue that marketers should not track people’s web-surfing activity for the purpose of compiling profiles about them without first obtaining their consent. Jeff Chester commented…

“…We’re filing a complaint to force the FTC to take a proactive stance. Mobile ad companies incorporate the same problematic business practices that we witnessed with PC-based broadband marketing, including behavioral targeting and profiling techniques–except that this time they know your location…”

The groups hope to influence policy now, while the mobile ad market is still in its infancy. Specifically, they intend to call on the FTC to create a task force that will include consumer representatives and industry leaders to craft a marketing regime that gives priority to privacy. They also intend to push for special rules regulating mobile ads to children and teens.

The FCC already has rules in place that prohibit the use of SMS marketing without a user’s consent, but other types of marketing like WAPl banners and search ads are not similarly restricted. The groups have observed that mobile marketing practices raise more privacy concerns than desktop-based behavioral targeting, because mobile companies can potentially determine a user’s precise physical location. By contrast, targeting that relies on cookies to track a user’s Internet history is usually anonymous and not tied to offline information such as location.

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1 comment

  1. Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS

    First off, they have some of their facts wrong. Mobile agencies can NOT know your exact location unless the end user has given prior permission to them to track them. It is strictly forbidden for carriers to reveal any information about your whereabouts whatsoever. They simply can not do this.

    Case in point, in December of 2006 three hikers on Mt. Hood became lost. One of the hikers turned his cell phone on, and thus a signal was captured. However, they had to get a court order to reveal the location of the hiker, even though everyone knew he was lost and they were looking. They were able to get within 20 feet or so of the location of where the phone was turned on. Unfortunately, all three did not make it.

    Carriers can NOT just give up your location. This fear of privacy is from those that do not understand privacy laws. Therefore, marketing agencies, who must interact with the carriers, can not know your location unless prior approval has been given.

    What will be possible is for individuals to volunteer their whereabouts to services, thus allowing them to be tracked. However, if you have not given prior approval, then your location can not be divulged.

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