Behavioral targetingÂ technologies studyÂ people’s online habits and try to serveÂ themÂ ads or offers tailored to their tastes.Â Â An industry newsletter, Behavioral Insider,Â warns its readers in the industry thatÂ the Federal Trade Commission has scheduled hearings in November that will look at everythingÂ “from nuts and bolts about the technology behind behavioral targeting to anticipated changes in data-gathering techniques as the technologies evolve in coming years.”
The FTC announcementÂ offers a cogent description of behavioral targeting andÂ poses some of theÂ questions it wants answered at what it calls a town hall meeting,Â including:
What standards do, or should, govern practices related to online behavioral advertising? Are companies following the (FTC-backed) Network Advertising Initiative Principles, originally issued in 2000 for online network advertising companies? Are these principles still relevant, in light of changes in the marketplace? What other legal or self-regulatory standards are applicable to these practices? Are certain practices generally regarded as appropriate or inappropriate in this area?
What changes are anticipated in the online behavioral advertising market over the next five years? Will information be collected through technological means other than cookies? Is behavioral advertising moving beyond the Internet into other technologies? (italics and link added)
In searching “behavioral targeting” on the FTC website IÂ noticed thatÂ the agencyÂ held a conference in April on “Behavioral Science and Consumer Policy.”Â A note said the conference wouldÂ discuss:
“the rapidly growing field of Behavioral Economics, which uses insights from psychological research to identify ways in which consumers may systematically fail to act in their own best interests due to behavioral traits such as self-control problems, failure to process information objectively, and inaccurately predicting the costs and benefits of prospective choices.”
Sounds like the FTC is worried that marketersÂ may beÂ using sophisticated ways, on and off-line, to take advantage of “the-devil-made-me-do-it” motivations — and wondering what if anything to do about such industrial-scaleÂ importunism.
Meanwhile,Â the Center for Digital Democracy, one ofÂ theÂ activist groups that hasÂ been pressuring the FTC to do something about what it considers the high-tech version of theÂ hard-sell, issued a statement calling the November meeting “an industry talkfest that will result in a delay protecting consumers.”