/// FTC Plans New Online-Ad Rules [WSJ]

May 30, 2011  |  Blog

The Federal Trade Commission has begun soliciting public comment on how it should revise more than decade-old guidelines that translate federal advertising laws to the Internet, as the agency moves to more aggressively police digital ads.

The agency said on a notice on its website Thursday that groups have until July 11 to send suggestions on how its original guidelines on online advertising disclosures should be updated to address new technologies, such as those used to target ads to users’ interests and mobile advertising.

The guidelines are significant because the FTC could sue companies that don’t abide by them, says Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington-based group supported by several online advertising companies.

“The (earlier guidelines) were always very relevant to their legal actions,” he said.

Those guidelines, known as the “Dot-com Disclosures,” state that companies must abide by the same consumer protection laws online that they do in traditional media, such as print and TV. They state companies should clearly notify users about issues like the risks of products being advertised online and about their privacy policies. The guidelines state what disclosures should look like, where they should appear on a website or online ad and that the language should be easily understandable.

As online ad-targeting has grown increasingly sophisticated, privacy and consumer groups have been calling for tougher and more specific rules that address matters like what sort of data can and can’t be used to target ads. It remains to be seen whether the FTC, which has been stepping up its enforcement of Internet privacy issues, will address these matters in this set of guidelines.

The Commission acknowledged the sea change in technology in its request. “Eleven years ago, mobile marketing was just a vision, there was not an ‘App’ economy, the use of ‘pop-up blockers’ was not widespread, and online social networking was nowhere as sophisticated or extensive as it is today,” the agency said in its statement.

The FTC did not say when it would aim to release its new guidelines.

By Emily Steel


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