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Privacy Groups Want Feds To Investigate Targeted Ads 71

Posted by Soulskill
from the brought-to-you-by-the-letter-h dept.
ciscoguy01 tips news that three privacy groups are asking the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether ad networks are "unfairly tracking Americans and profiting from their data." According to Wired, "Companies named in the complaint (PDF) include Google, Yahoo, PubMatic, TARGUSinfo, MediaMath, eXelate, Rubicon Project, AppNexus, and Rocket Fuel. At issue is a growing market of targeted, real-time ads, where advertisers can choose to show ads to people based on their age, gender, income and location — as well as their recent online behavior — often on unrelated sites that let third parties track users.... Third-party cookie tracking isn't new, but as the complaint points out, marketers are increasingly trying to augment that data with other data sets, such as the social network data that Rapleaf harvests and resells.... Tying ad cookies to personally identifiable data would let marketers successfully combine online and offline data on website visitors to build a complete digital dossier on a user."
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Privacy Groups Want Feds To Investigate Targeted Ads

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:16AM (#31807294)

    The government will allow the private sector to do what it is politically unable to do itself. Once enough data is collected, the state can access it under National Security Letters when it needs to. All this without the political and legal consequences of the state operating the system itself.

    • by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @10:44AM (#31807818) Homepage

      It's scary when things make too much sense...

      *dons tin foil hat*

      • That hat won't protect you, nor will your gun or any semblance of power you may feel you wield by owning one.

        True democratic power is the only way. The problem being that widespread media influences the largely imbecilic populous to keep following the way.

        Speak truth and incite criticism and true interest among your peers. Spread knowledge and activism through your own example. Teach others the truth about things and your passion for it will spread onto them.

        When the majority will not simply accept somet

    • by WindowlessView (703773) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @11:01AM (#31807952)

      Correct but they don't need National Security Letters for this. They already buy, access, and store a ton of private sector data. It's not a loophole, it's the St. Louis arch, and its been open for years.

      It's a little naive to think that segments of the government haven't their fingers in the development of various private sector companies since the beginning. Between CIA venture money, DARPA grants, large government contract awards, carefully placed personnel, etc., this far from some fortunate development that fell from the sky for them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Da-mit.

        I was just thinking to myself, "So what if Microsoft or some orther megacrop knows my personal tastes and targets ads that I'd be interested in seeing?" Then you had to mention the government. It never occurred to me that the US Congress or EU Parliament might simply TAKE the information and use it for their own nefarious purposes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nextekcarl (1402899)

        That's a good point. People often forget that many people in government aren't there for life. They either came from business and/or go to business after working in the government. So it isn't an either/or situation at all.

  • Not Trolling ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:20AM (#31807308)
    ... but is this part of the price we pay for free websites?

    AFA harvesting data from social networking sites, well, if you're willing to post every detail of your life you can't be surprised if someone, or some company, is willing to suck up that data. It doesn't make it right, but I find it hard to feel sorry for people who want their lives to be a "web based reality show" for their friends but don't want anyone to actually use that information (either for marketing or for passing judgement on their character when it comes to employment, etc).
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by dimeglio (456244)

      Not trolling either. If ads were informational - telling me what I can find, where and at the cheapest price - why would that be a bad thing? I was looking for a new cpu cooler, if the data they have on me would help me find one, I would be all for it. I think ads drive the economy and should only be controlled if they try to prevent access to choice. Seriously, people need to worry about other things.

      • by kent_eh (543303)

        If ads were informational - telling me what I can find, where and at the cheapest price - why would that be a bad thing?

        There's the problem. They aren't (generally)

        Ads seem to mostly be about informing you of a problem you didn't know you had, then telling you where to buy the solution.

        "Oh, I see you are shopping for CPU coolers. You need to buy our Viagra clone. Only available from Schlongmaster of Korea. Mail us cash now!"

        • "Oh, I see you are shopping for CPU coolers. You need to buy our Viagra clone. Only available from Schlongmaster of Korea. Mail us cash now!"

          Um, that's probably because of the number of pages you were viewing that, um, were of an entirely different nature.

      • I think much of the fear about this sort of thing is that it will be misused in the same way a fingerprint [washingtonpost.com] on a train in Spain were used to finger the wrong man (pardon the pun). It was a partial print, and was determined to be good enough to pass three "experts" at the FBI, and they dragged this guy's name through the mud, all to admit later that he was the wrong man. Imagine the same thing being done with this sort of info.

        FBI: Hey, we have a hit on our SuperDuperTerroristCatchingProgram! They just looke

    • by NotBorg (829820) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @11:53AM (#31808370)

      If I pay them will they stop spying on me? I doubt it. In fact we probably give up even more privacy by paying for content.

      ... but is this part of the price we pay for free websites?

      How can this be a price for free websites if the same applies to pay sites? Just because you don't see adds doesn't mean they aren't tracking you.

      Ultimately it comes down to choice. The one you don't have. Currently you can't choose to not be tracked. Not without extra software which may or may not be successful at stopping it (kinda like virus protection). You don't get a notice about being tracked and you don't get the option to opt out. It would be one thing if you could opt out and as a result you wouldn't be able to access the content. At least then the price would be upfront instead of a dirty secret.

      In truth I don't care much about targeted ads. I don't see many of them, thanks to adblock any way. Even if I did see lots of relevant ads I wouldn't click on them. When I want to buy something I go directly to the manufactures web sight or a trusted retailer. I'll do a Google search before I click on an ad. Why? Ad companies can't be trusted. It is that simple.

      Don't get me started on the abuse that goes beyond privacy. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The collect calling ads on TV did more to insure people hit mute on their remote for every ad break than any other ad campaign in history. They were that fucking annoying that they are still costing advertisers money today. An ad break comes up and people hit mute so fucking fast it ain't even funny.

      If you have a site that depends on ad revenue you'd best spend your time policing the content and behavior of your ad providers. Keep doing that for a bout 10 years to make up for the 10 years of no one policing them at all. Then **maybe then** I may start trusting them enough to unblock them. I'm sorry you can't get the revenue you'd like from ads. Someone shit (ad companies) in that bed and I won't climb in there with them until long after the stench is gone--and even then they'd better be damn hot. Pick another business model because everyone can smell the dookie.

    • ... but is this part of the price we pay for free websites?

      AFA harvesting data from social networking sites, well, if you're willing to post every detail of your life you can't be surprised if someone, or some company, is willing to suck up that data. It doesn't make it right, but I find it hard to feel sorry for people who want their lives to be a "web based reality show" for their friends but don't want anyone to actually use that information (either for marketing or for passing judgement on their character when it comes to employment, etc).

      Well, yes and no.

      Yes, if you post information in a public forum you should expect that anyone who wants it will take it. Yes, behind the scenese this is the price we pay for "free" websites.

      But no, I don't think people using Facebook realise that everything they look at is being tracked, indexed and stored, regardless of what privacy settings they have in place. No, I don't think people using GMail realise that the content of the emails they send and receive is being trawled, analysed and stored for mark

      • by iphinome (810750)
        Reading information people place in a public place... okay

        Storing said information... well nothing you can do about it really.

        Selling all the data your stored... Ding Ding Ding copyright infringement, bonus points for it being commercial infringement.

  • Relax (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wombatmobile (623057) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:22AM (#31807330)
    From TFA:

    As for whether the FTC will investigate, it’s hard to say — but it’s not too likely. The complaint doesn’t seem to allege any clear-cut violations of law

    It is Sunday. Go mow the lawn and enjoy a beer afterwards, or write some code. The world will survive this for now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:22AM (#31807332)

    Two weeks ago it was Theora, last week was Flash, this week it's cookies?

    Man, it's hard to keep up with teh evils of teh intarwebs!

    • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:58AM (#31807544)
      Parent shouldn't be considered a "troll". They bring up a valid point: Every week it's something new we're up in arms about.

      I'm not saying that there aren't valid concerns regarding these (and many, many other) issues, but the story of "Chicken Little" comes to mind. Who's going to listen to the "collective brain trust" when it's always squawking about something. There's always going to be something. I worry about how desensitized people will be when something major comes along.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Aladrin (926209)

        If there are that many things to be 'up in arms about', then we -should- be bringing them all to the attention of everyone we can. Concentrating on just the worst one will mean the others have time to gain hold.

        Cops don't all stop working on muggings when there's a murder.

        Mechanics don't ignore the brakes when the transmission is blown.

        • Guess what?

          It is their job to care. It is their job to take care of it.

          But general population? You know, people whose support you need to fix socioeconomic issues like the on in op?

          It is not their job to care or to take care of it. You need to convince then that when there is problem, it is their problem and they should care enough to be pissed about it and help take care of it.

          But if you are comming across as whiny bastart that complains about pretty much everything, well, so surprises: you are going to be

      • Speaking directly to google I have to say I'd rather see targeted ad's then the usual crap "suburban mom teaches 1 simple trick to whiten teeth, make your penis bigger etc". I call that a value added service. I use their free products and they supply me with relevant targeted advertisments. As for the social networking bit, you get what you deserve when you use that type of service. Being anti social myself I have no use for that trash. I suppose it's probably a chick thing since my wife practically lives o
      • > There's always going to be something. I worry about how desensitized people will be when something major comes along.

        This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

        There is never going to announcement saying "Privacy/Freedom has been repealed". You will just wake up one day and realize it is so. And then we can all reflect back on the all the warnings ignored.

  • by drolli (522659) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:27AM (#31807366) Journal

    Just introduce the rule that any customer contacted by a company may force them to provide a complete record (sent in paper, with a personal valid signature of the person in charge) on his personal data and how they got it, and the right to demand deletion of his record and the restriction a not use the same way again. Wrong statements should be punished by hefty fines and prison for the person signing it.

    if 5% of the people do it this would clog up the system pretty much.

    • by MrMr (219533) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:47AM (#31807468)
      Next you'll be wanting to decide who rules you. What are you? A liberal or something?
      Shut up and get back to consuming.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      Just introduce the rule that any customer contacted by a company may force them to provide a complete record (sent in paper, with a personal valid signature of the person in charge) on his personal data and how they got it, and the right to demand deletion of his record and the restriction a not use the same way again. Wrong statements should be punished by hefty fines and prison for the person signing it.

      if 5% of the people do it this would clog up the system pretty much.

      You have to pay a standard administration fee (£10?), and you don't find out where they got it from (unless that's part of the record), but that's pretty much the situation in the UK [wikipedia.org].

      Having said that, IME all that's necessary to stop junk mail is to mark it "return to sender", and to stop junk phone calls to ask to be removed from the list.

  • Ohmigosh! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by mrsam (12205)

    Somebody's tracking me on the Intertubes! Oh-noes.

    Privoxy FTW. I wish the marketdroids the best of luck in trying to cherry-pick whatever obnoxious ad they wish to throw in front of my eyes. I find blatant advertising as obnoxious as the next person, but I find it somewhat difficult to get excited over something that I'll never see.

    So what if some database somewhere says that I enjoy midget w... uh, whatever. If someone's bothered by the existence of some database entry which besides its actual existenc

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GaryOlson (737642)
      To summarize: the Internet is not, and should not be, a perfectly safe zone with rubber bumpers on all the sharp corners. We cannot expect the government to protect us from every possible implication of our own actions. People can limit third party interactions on the Internet each according to their ability, technical or financial or otherwise. Grow up people!
      • We cannot expect the government to protect us from every possible implication of our own actions.

        Especially not if it implies the $COUNTRY government dictating terms to $OTHER_COUNTRY. Especially especially not if one or the other is the USA.

    • by symbolic (11752)

      Doesn't TiVo track, like *everything* you do?

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by icebraining (1313345)

        What are you comparing? Or are you fond of TiVo? Because that "like" serves absolutely no purpose in that sentence.

        • by centuren (106470)

          What are you comparing? Or are you fond of TiVo? Because that "like" serves absolutely no purpose in that sentence.

          It's an idiomatic usage that gives additional emphasis on the word that follows it.

  • And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @09:45AM (#31807458) Journal

    If this were a court rather than the FTC, it's be a textbook case of "dismissed based on failure to state a claim". May as well sue Ford for "profiting from selling ground transportation".

    • Civil suits also require demonstration of harm. Even if we agree companies ought not be tracking people like this, I can't say how the plaintiffs could show they've been harmed by targeted banner ads.
  • If I have to view ads I'd much rather view something that I may have interest in rather than all those god awful "whiter teeth" or "perfect abs" ads featuring some man/woman's fat gut on a website.

    Targeted ads don't necessarily have to know who I am. They can work with the context of the website and the page's content. Is that really a bad thing?

    Either way, if targeted ads mean fewer pay walls then bring it on. I *much* rather have tracking cookies (that I can delete) in my browser than have my paymen
  • Fairness isn't the issue, legality is, and since you voluntarily give up the data, i think they are well within legal bounds.

    Life in general isn't 'fair', so get over it and don't drop so many breadcrumbs.

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