Staff recommends transparency and choice for consumers when companies track them across devices
The Federal Trade Commission has released Cross-Device Tracking: An FTC Staff Report that describes the technology used to track consumers across multiple Internet-connected devices, the benefits and challenges associated with it, and industry efforts to address those challenges. The report concludes by making recommendations to industry about how to apply traditional principles like transparency, choice, and security to this relatively new practice.
The report draws upon comments and discussions from a November 2015 Cross-Device Tracking Workshop and explains that cross-device tracking associates multiple devices with the same consumer and links a consumer’s activity across her devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and other connected devices). It describes how cross-device tracking facilitates seamless experiences, can help to prevent fraud and more effectively target ads, and can increase competition in advertising. However, the report also acknowledges that cross-device tracking often takes place without consumers’ knowledge. It also discusses that consumers have limited choices to control such tracking, and that it can result in caches of more—and more sensitive—data that need to be protected.
The report outlines industry self-regulatory efforts to address cross-device tracking and concludes by encouraging entities with direct consumer-facing relationships and those working in cross-device tracking behind the scenes to (1) truthfully disclose tracking to consumers and business partners; (2) offer consumers choices about how their cross-device activity is tracked; (3) obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before engaging in cross-device tracking on sensitive topics and before collecting and sharing precise geolocation information; and (4) maintain reasonable security to avoid future unexpected and unauthorized uses of data.
The Commission vote to issue the staff report was 3-0. Commissioner Ohlhausen issued a concurring statement.