FOSI and the law firm Womble Carlyle hosted a Wednesdays with Winston luncheon panel on August 26, 2009 and attracted an expert panel and knowledgeable audience for what proved to be a lively debate. Panelists included Molly Crawford of the FTC, Jules Polonetsky from the Future of Privacy Forum, Microsoft’s Frank Torres and Jennifer Kashatus of Womble Carlyle. Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI, moderated the discussion. The debate focused on the role of the Federal Trade Commission in online safety and covered topics such as Online Behavioural Advertising and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Molly Crawford outlined the work that was being done by the FTC regarding Online Behavioural Advertising and COPPA and called upon the industry to maintain the dialogue with the FTC on these issues. She discussed the importance of transparency and greater privacy for consumers and said the FTC needs to hear more from industry on the secondary uses of data collected online. Crawford said that there is a strong possibility of legislation in the area of online advertising if companies don’t step up their efforts to engage in a dialogue with the FTC and make consumers aware of practices. Crawford also noted that the FTC has moved up its review of COPPA to 2010 and is currently examining virtual worlds.
Jules Polonetsky said that one of the goals of the Future of Privacy Forum is to advance responsible practices. He reminded the audience that the industry had dealt with the problem of spam and spyware and that progress in the domain of online behavioural advertising was possible without government intervention, it just needed time. Polonetsky said that businesses are working to make sure consumers are aware of what is being used. He also noted that the public likes it when online behavioural advertising works for their benefit and enhances their online experience. Polonetsky also said that legislators are less cautious about acting in this area and there is a need for some technical innovation.
Frank Torres of Microsoft paid tribute to the work that the FCC has been doing with behavioural targeting and online advertising. He said these are important aspects of how the industry works today and online ads can help newspapers, journalists, and small businesses. Torres noted that Rep. Boucher has been talking about a privacy bill that includes behavioural advertising and said that it is important that businesses are allowed to work and grow but that consumers are also informed. Torres said that Microsoft believes it is important to educate parents and kids to be savvy online. He also explained that compliance with COPPA is important and encouraged everyone to be active in the COPPA review.
Jennifer Kashatus of Womble Carlyle talked about the increase in state governments taking action in this area. She said that states are moving much faster than the federal government and questioned whether industry can move fast enough and keep up with requirements on a state-by-state basis. Kashatus discussed recent legislation in Maine to expand the age of verifiable consent for obtaining information from children online and limitations this law places on what can be done with the data. She noted that a challenge was filed to the law.
The discussion moved on to cover aspects of COPA and COPPA at which point the audience was solicited for information and Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation discussed the dangers of age verification and the many state bills being discussed that expand on COPPA. Representatives from three of the COPPA Safe Harbors, Privo, Children’s Advertising Review Unit, and Trustee, were present for the discussion and explained how companies comply with COPPA and some of the challenges state legislation in this area will present for companies trying to comply with laws. An audience member representing a small start-up company said they need guidance and they can’t afford legal advice on a state-by-state basis. He said there needs to be a central resource to let small companies know what to do. Amanda Lenhart from Pew Research Center said that Pew is collecting data and helping the FTC gather information on kids’ use of virtual worlds.
The luncheon ended with the conclusion that this robust discussion was “to be continued” as the FTC moves forward around COPPA, virtual worlds, and behavioural advertising.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr