5Qs: FTC’s David Vladeck on Why Do Not Track is Really Do Not Collect

David Vladeck is the director of the bureau of consumer protection of the Federal Trade Commission. A former professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Vladeck was appointed to his current role in 2009 by incoming FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. Vladeck spent 30 years as an advocacy lawyer with the Public Citizen Litigation Group. After giving a keynote interview on Monday at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Networks and Exchanges event in New York, he discussed the legislative outlook with DIGIDAY and whether the ad industry has done enough.

What’s the status of Do Not Track?  
When we talk about Do Not Track, we really mean Do Not Collect. What we are worried about is the use of data collection for secondary uses other than behavioral advertising. The question is where to draw the line. We don’t have a problem with the fundamental issue of targeting. Where we draw the line is for secondary purposes.
How do you define secondary purposes?  Does that cover publishers who buy data from other sites, like e-commerce sites and use them to target ads? 
That’s where disagreements sometimes happen, such as the process of reselling data. It’s sort of like you know it when you see it, like the old quote by Justice Potter Stewart on pornography. People have a reasonable expectation to have more targeted ads When it comes to publishers, yes, that’s OK with lots of caveats. Our supposition is that if people are given a choice, people like ads targeted to their interests. They ought to have the control to not be tracked all the time. For example, if I’m doing a bunch of searches for deep-fat fryers, it’s reasonable that I’ll see ads for cooking products. But I don’t want that information sold to an insurance company. Or maybe I live with someone who is getting chubby. They don’t want to see behavioral ads. The whole point of Do Not Track is that you have the expectation that you may not want to be tracked. You need to give consumers a measure of choices
Sounds like you are in favor of something pretty blunt.
Something blunt is a start. What we’re focused on is three options. Being tracked, not being tracked and being tracked only by certain ad networks or businesses. What are ad networks going to say? Here’s what we are going to do with your data. We are not going to sell it to people who are not in the business of delivering targeted ads or companies that are looking to build dossiers on you. Even with Do Not Call, you can pick and choose who you hear from. If you are a frequent flier, you can get calls from United Airlines, for example. Many will opt out and realize they are getting a blizzard of ads that are untargeted. They’ll go, “Wait a minute, this is a lot worse.” We think advertisers will flourish in that type of environment.
Do you think we will see legislation in 2011?
I think we are going to make significant progress. You are already seeing the browser companies build this offering in. There is the Kerry-McCain bill, the Rockefeller bill, the Ed Markey and Joe Barton do-not-track-kids bill. If people thought this was a liberal-only issue, they are wrong. Barton is as conservative as they come. It’s really a libertarian issue.
How are advertisers doing addressing this issue?
The debate needs to be reframed by the ad community. They need to address this issue more directly. They haven’t been as out in front as they could be. It needs to be very simple for consumers, but they need to understand the issues. These are not irrational fears by consumers.
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