|October 18, 1999
Re: Online Profiling Project Comment, P994809/Docket No. 990811219-9219-01
Dear Mr. Secretary:
PrivaSeek appreciates the opportunity to submit the following comments on the topic of online profiling. Additionally, we respectfully request that we be invited to participate in Session III, entitled the "Role of Self-Regulation," of the FTC/NTIA Workshop currently scheduled for November 8, 1999.
Our comments generally address several areas of inquiry by the FTC and Department of Commerce. First, we will briefly discuss some of the costs and benefits of online profiling to consumers and businesses. Further, we will provide an overview of a future PrivaSeek project that we are hopeful will yield both a valuable consumer education resource, as well as a viable technological, self-regulatory solution to concerns raised in the context of online profiling. Because our project involves sensitive trade secrets and know-how, a detailed discussion would be premature at this critical time. Please be assured, however, that we will be in a position to discuss our plans with greater specificity at the November 8th Workshop.
Costs and Benefits
Online profiling to date has occurred primarily without the permission and, often, the awareness of the Internet surfer. It has been this absence of notice, choice, access, consent, or knowledge that has attracted an increasing level of criticism and disdain of the practice. However, although much of what we hear in conjunction with online profiling arises in a negative context, the practice, if done in accordance with the tenets of fair information practices, can actually provide an opportunity for consumers and businesses alike to realize tangible, quantifiable benefits.
Companies that engage in online profiling gather a variety of different information for a variety of purposes. For example, by analyzing the click patterns of a particular Internet user, companies are able to deliver tailored advertising messages. And, although the term "cookie" has engendered considerable controversy, cookies can significantly impact the experience of a Web user by enhancing personalization and enabling the convenience of a single sign-in at a particular site. In addition, cookies, with permissioning aspects, enable relevant and unique offers to be served up to the consumer. Cookies also provide effective tools for tracking content and transaction states, as well as for performing advertising accounting.
The Role of Technology and Self-Regulation
PrivaSeek supports a self-regulatory approach comprised of a combination of targeted consumer education efforts and technology that enables consumers to seize control of their personal information. PrivaSeeks project embraces both of these critical components. Through an online advertising campaign, consumers will be directed to a consumer education web site that will provide information related to consumers privacy rights, the tracking of online consumer movement and data collection, and the use of "cookies." In addition, the web site will educate consumers with regard to their available options to protect themselves online and enhance the value of their online experience.
We believe that PrivaSeek is well positioned to lead the charge in moving industry and society toward a permission-based system where the consumer is in control of his online experiences and relationships. To this end, PrivaSeeks consumer education site will also serve ultimately as the clearinghouse for committed industry participants to obtain permission from Internet users for the use of their profile information. PrivaSeeks ultimate goal in undertaking this effort is to facilitate the transition of the online industry and marketplace to a fully permissioned state.
Once implemented, PrivaSeeks proposed permissioning system will provide a fully consensual and consumer-controlled environment where the consumer dictates what, how, when, where and from whom he receives advertising and marketing messages. This solution is a "win-win" for both the consumer and online companies, as it enhances the value of advertising by enabling companies to serve the right ad to the right person at the right time. Only for the very first time, the "right" will be determined by the consumer.
We believe that this project will establish the basis for an infrastructure for permission-based marketing. By building a mechanism for Internet users to affirmatively opt-out of participating companies online and offline advertising and marketing conveyed via email, the serving of banner ads, or direct mail or telemarketing solicitations -- consumers will be able to define and drive their relationships with direct marketers.
We would be pleased discuss the details of this project further at the November 8th Workshop. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or comments regarding our written submission.
Very truly yours,
Dr. Steve Lucas
Elizabeth M. Palmquist