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We Are Here To Protect You

As the Federal Trade Commission prepares to weigh in on targeted marketing and online privacy in a report this fall, broadcasting and cable operators are trying to protect the new Web turf that could become critical for their creative and economic well-being.

The issue has migrated to the front burner in recent weeks, driven in part by the FTC’s potential expansion of legislation geared toward protecting teens online, by the FCC’s broadband plan and by the online privacy agendas of key legislators.

Last week, the chairmen of the FTC and FCC were witnesses at a Hill hearing on the issue. Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) also have dueling online privacy bills that were vetted in a hearing two weeks ago, with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last week pledging to add a Senate bill to the mix. Each would potentially require Web surfers to allow some measure of data to be shared with advertisers and other parties.

“The TV industry understands that most of advertising will eventually be digitally targeted to a specific individual— whether by a PC, mobile phone or TV,” says Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The future of advertising is interactive personalized digital ads—more precise marketing messages that can be designed in practically realtime for a consumer using information culled from their viewing, buying and browsing behaviors.”

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has been leaning hard on the industry to do more than simply promote education and awareness, and continued to do so last week during the hearing.

The FTC in March announced its latest periodic review of rules implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 2000.

Against that backdrop, the broadcast and cable industries have told the commission in comments on its COPPA review that it needs to tread lightly. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association cautioned the FTC against making any significant changes “that could disrupt the existing equilibrium by increasing the obligations for childdirected Website operators, or effectively barring children’s access to interactive functionality within emerging technologies and platforms.” The Motion Picture Association of America agrees, saying that substantial changes are “unnecessary.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, which is trying to convince the FCC that it has big plans for spectrum that don’t include giving it up, focused on the future of interactive television in its pitch to the FTC, saying it is too early for broadcasters’ interactive efforts to come under restrictions on targeted marketing.

But Chester, who has been pushing the FTC to pay more attention to online targeted marketing as a media concentration and control issue, suggests that the industry is putting profits ahead of privacy concerns: “They are lobbying to have the FCC and FTC turn a blind eye to the privacy and consumer protection issues involved with behavioral targeting done via digital TV and the Internet.”

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