Privacy-Protection BillsMounting Up AgainstOnline-Behavior Ads

Washington — Cable operators, child- and teen-targeted
websites and others are facing new prohibitions
on targeting their ads to online surfers.

Two new bills pushed by Democrats have been introduced
that could
take a bite out of the
burgeoning online
behavioral-ad industry,
one that would effectively
targeting of ads to
kids and even teens.

Meanwhile, Republicans
seeking support for
a privacy bill introduced
last month
that would not implement
mandates, would define protected information
narrowly and would not put the Federal Trade Commission
in charge of enforcing voluntary guidelines.

Both the Commerce Department and the FTC are
pushing a type of do-not-track self-regulatory regime,
with a backstop of government enforcement.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) wants that regime to have
the backstop of explicit FTC regulatory authority, while
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wants a do-not-track “junior”
version that would ban tracking and targeted marketing
of kids and teens. Earlier, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and
John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed a bill to protect online and
offl ine privacy via a combined opt-out and opt-in regime
for the use of information on Web surfers.

Markey’s bill, which would prevent behavioral targeted
marketing to kids, could prove problematic for marketers
in what is a potentially multibillion-dollar arena.

Attorney Marc Roth of Manatt, Thelts & Phillips, who
specializes in privacy, fears a restriction on marketing to
kids could catch adults in a net that’s too broad. Depending
on how the do-not-track regime is set up, it could apply
to both websites and Internet providers, he cautioned.

“I think it will largely diminish a cable operator or advertiser’s
ability to reach a certain audience,” Roth said.
“While they can still target their advertising, as in a media
buy for a certain website, you won’t be able to get the additional,
more-specific information that is perhaps more
current in the marketplace now. I do think it diminishes
the ability for marketers to communicate directly with
consumers that are most relevant.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association
was still studying the bills at press time and
had no comment, though it applauded the Stearns
bill’s “effort to promote a level playing field with respect
to privacy regulation.”

The Markey and Rockefeller bills joined what is becoming
a battle on multiple fronts over the collection,
protection and sharing of online information.

Also last week:

• A hearing in the Senate Judiciary Privacy Subcommittee
on mobile data privacy;

• A House Privacy Caucus briefi ng (Markey and
Barton are co-chairs) on mobile data privacy;

• The Justice Department signaled that it was releasing
a package of legislative cyber-security proposals.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.