Posts tagged ‘Personally identifiable information’

December 11, 2012

Advertising companies need to stay out of consumer history

By Krista Brooks

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012 –  The Daily 49er

An online advertisement company has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to end “history sniffing” to use personal information to target consumers concerning sensitive issues such as medical problems and financial issues.

The FTC provides defense for consumers to prevent unfair business practices, fraud and deception to protect their identity and history.

Epic Marketplace Inc. was charged yesterday for illegally gathering private data. The company is present on 45,000 websites. This large New York City based network tracked all visitors to its sites to follow consumers’ Internet behavior. This practice is commonly known as online behavioral advertising.

The FTC reported that Epic was collecting data outside of the company’s network and infringed on the trust bond with the consumers by being deceptive. The company claimed in the privacy policy that the Internet cookie would only follow the activity within the company’s sites.

The FTC discovered that Epic followed online users visiting any of 54,000 domains outside of the network.

These outside sites that were monitored by the advertising group were confidential issues relating to menopause, bankruptcy, disability insurance, fertility issues and fertility complications. This information was collected illegally without consumer consent.

Epic Media Group, LLC, the parent company of the organization, and Epic Marketplace Inc. have been barred from using this tracking technology any longer.

The settlement ordered the advertisement company to delete all information that was collected with the misused software.

The groups were strongly encouraged to follow their own guidelines to defer from miscommunication of their policies and protect consumer rights.

Epic trailed the online activity of Internet users without their knowledge or consent, categorized their audience into interest groups based only on a small focus of websites. The problem with this advertising tracking is that it can be done secretly while accumulating data that concerns personal matters. Facebook uses online behavioral advertising by tracking users’ activity on other sites while logged into the social network. To me, this is the same issue. Facebook uses the data to display ads on your profile that will appeal to your interests; however, the network is open about this software and includes it in the privacy policy that users must agree to terms to retain an account.

The FTC should monitor Facebook and other sites that use personal information to filter advertisements and pop-ups in addition to online history. Our activity online should be protected and private unless addressed specifically from a company that asks for data. Information and personal preferences should be accumulated from online polls or surveysthat involve volunteers to disclose such data.

This case caught the FTC’s attention because the small group of consumers that were targeted had Web browser malfunctions and outdated features.

“The bigger issue here is that data-collection practices by online advertising companies are largely unregulated,” said Rainey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that advocates for online privacy. “If you want to surf the Web these days and not have a corporate shadow following you around, you’ve got to be extremely technicallysavvy.”

Be smart browsing the Internet and defer from revealing personal information that could be “sniffed” out by advertisement corporations.

Krista Brooks is a junior journalism major and the assistant opinions editor for the Daily 49er. 

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