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Online-Marketing Critics Call for FTC Action

Media activists concerned about Internet marketing by big media companies and others called on the Federal Trade Commission to do something about "invasive" online advertising.

That call came at an FTC town-hall meeting Thursday, which the commission held in response to complaints by the same groups -- specifically the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The groups filed a supplement to their initial complaint Thursday.

"As our report documents, online marketers are creating digital dossiers on individual consumers ('behavioral profiling') so they can be tracked when surfing the Web, watching a broadband video or using their mobile phone," CDD executive director Jeff Chester said. "Today, we also ask the FTC to launch an immediate investigation into new threats to privacy from the behavioral targeting and profiling of children and youth, including on social networks."

The groups got some support from House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who echoed the call for action.

"When consumers search for information online, they may be unaware of marketers in their wake, who are scooping up the digital traces of consumers’ online activities and compiling profiles that could undermine privacy," he said. "The Federal Trade Commission should promptly investigate the privacy impacts of Internet tracking and targeting techniques to ensure that loss of privacy is not the price consumers must pay to realize the benefits of online commerce.”

Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, defended online marketing practices.

“Online advertising allows OPA members to provide quality, free content to consumers globally," she told the FTC. "Online business practices, such as site usage tracking and content and behavioral targeting make this advertising particularly effective and significantly more valuable to consumers," she said.