FTC To Host Workshop on Cross-Device Tracking

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Workshop to Examine Privacy Issues That Arise As Marketers Track Consumers Across a Growing Number of Devices

The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop on November 16, 2015, to examine the privacy issues around the tracking of consumers’ activities across their different devices for advertising and marketing purposes.

The event, which will take place in Washington, D.C. at the FTC’s Constitution Center offices, will explore the practice known as “cross-device tracking.” As consumers use an increasingly diverse array of devices, from smart phones to tablets to wearable devices, they interact with platforms, applications, software and publishers in ways that were impossible to conceive even just a few years ago.

“More consumers are connecting with the internet in different ways, and industry has responded by coming up with additional tools to track their behavior,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“With the advent of new tracking methods, though, it’s important to ensure that consumers’ privacy remains protected as businesses seek to target them across multiple devices.”

The use of multiple devices creates a challenge for companies that want to reach these consumers with relevant advertising. The traditional method of using cookies to track consumers’ online activities are proving to be less effective. A cookie may not provide a complete picture of a consumer who uses different web browsers at home, at work and on their mobile device, for example.

Industry has adopted different approaches to address this issue, from simply having consumers log in to be able to use a site or service from a different device, to methods that rely on various characteristics about a user to match their behavior from one device to another – often without the consumers’ awareness or control.

The FTC’s workshop seeks to address a number of questions about the potential benefits to consumers of effective cross-device tracking, as well as to examine the potential privacy and security risks.

The staff of the Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comment on the following questions in advance of the workshop to inform the staff’s examination of these issues at the upcoming workshop.

  • What are the different types of cross-device tracking, how do they work, and what are they used for?
  • What types of information and benefits do companies gain from using these technologies?
  • What benefits do consumers derive from the use of these technologies?
  • What are the privacy and security risks associated with the use of these technologies?
  • How can companies make their tracking more transparent and give consumers greater control over it?
  • Do current industry self-regulatory programs apply to different cross device tracking techniques?

Comments will be accepted prior to the event until Oct. 16, 2015, and the comment period will be held open for post-workshop comments until December 16, 2015. Comments can be submitted online.

The workshop will be held in the FTC’s Constitution Center offices in the A, B and C conference rooms located at 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC. The workshop is free and open to the public.

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