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 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.