Privacy's Next Battleground Will Be Your Phone

[qi:090] Two consumer organizations have filed an amended complaint to the Federal Trade Commission seeking around mobile advertising. The Center for Digital Democracy and The U.S. Public Interest Research Group filed their joint complaint with the FTC today. The 52-page complaint amends a 2006 filing from the two that asked the FTC to look at the behavior tracking and targeted advertising done by the online web industry — something to which Congress has recently started to pay attention.

From the complaint:

“The mobile industry has already developed extensive plans and techniques to help determine what it calls the “user journey” through the “mobile Internet.”[3] Many mobile marketers are eager to exploit what they correctly perceive as a unique opportunity to target consumers by taking advantage of our highly personal relationships with these extremely pervasive devices to provoke an immediate consumer response.”

The complaint focuses on practices such as offering services or loyalty programs and coupons in exchange for an advertising relationship, as well as the amount of knowledge the carriers have on subscribers that can be shared with other vendors — possibly without a customer understanding what they are giving up. The issue is made more compelling by people’s willingness to carry their mobile phones with them everywhere, and by the information, including location, that mobile phones can offer advertisers. Advertisers love this device, and the complaint alleges that consumers aren’t aware of what, exactly, they’ve agree to.

As wireless broadband becomes more common and devices that access the web grow in use, restraint on the part of advertisers and consumer education around mobile advertising will need to follow. If we’re destined for one web –and I believe we are — then we need a set of rules that will apply both to wireless and wired settings.

Google, Yahoo, and carriers such as AT&T and Verizon — not to mention a host of startups and VC firms– are betting big on mobile advertising. I find Ringleader Digital’s mobile tracking technology a bit disturbing, but there are plenty of players banking on user ignorance, including ChaCha, Velti and AdMob — all of which mentioned in the complaint.

For more on the intersection of broadband and privacy check out our previous coverage that relates to web firms, cable firms and mobile operators:

Newsflash: Congress Discovers that Web Firms Track Data

Akamai Joins The Targeted Advertising Rush

BlueKai Gets $10.5M to Improve Ads

Privacy: Your Cable Box Knows You So Well

Canoe Ventures Wants Your Data

Carriers Demand More Data, Consumers Get Less Privacy

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