[author: William J. Weber]
Last week the FTC held a workshop with a broad range of stakeholders to examine “comprehensive” data collection about consumers' online activities. The day-long program covered familiar territory – don’t demonize/regulate particular technologies such as cookies; the benefits of data collection and free online services supported by targeted advertising versus the risk to intellectual privacy, loss of consumer bargaining power, potential i.d. theft and potential government intrusion; the merits of long-form privacy disclosures; whether companies should compete on the level of privacy protection they offer; the need to protect innovation and the internet economy; etc. At least one panelist took issue with the notion of the “comprehensive” label, saying it’s “a real lot of data,” but far from everything. This seemed to be the crux of the issue – should there be limits or prohibitions on the comprehensive collection and use of data on consumer behavior across the web? No consensus was reached on this point and it’s not clear what the FTC's next step will be. One thing is certain: These issues will vex regulators, legislators, businesses, and consumers well into 2013 and beyond.