Future of Privacy Forum's Opt-out for the Tracking of Individuals and their location Fails to Protect Privacy
By: Jeff Chester | Feb 18 2014
Companies engaged in the tracking, analyzing and targeting of consumers need to do much more than merely sign up for a very weak "Code of Conduct" on mobile location ("Smart Stores") that has been developed by the Future of Privacy Forum. The code doesn't really empower, inform and protect consumers from the incredibly invasive system being put in place by retailers, fast food companies, malls, and sporting venues, etc. A serious set of safeguards related to mobile marketing is required, so that consumers aren't unfairly persuaded to exchange their personal information for a discount, special content or other personalized loyalty promotions tied to their behavior (such as entering a "loyalty zone"). No targeting should be done at all where teens frequent; and we have concerns about other sensitive categories of information, including the relationships between race and location. Indeed, a review of the activities of the companies involved with the code underscore why what's being done needs to be analyzed, publicly critiqued and regulatory rules imposed. Besides, what gives stores the right--without first a public debate--to install sensors, "in-door positioning nodes," " beacons," 3-D cameras and other tools of mobile and locational tracking? Indeed, this is also an issue tied into the growing use of facial and biometric recognition. Who are the industry's business advisors? Expanding mass surveillance for commercial interests is not a responsbile practice (let alone the democratic implications).
The FTC should not be fooled to believe this code really addresses mobile location privacy. As we described in our Commment submited to the FTC, for their mobile location workshop, mobile and geo-location tracking is part of a sophisticated and comprehensive system addressing how consumers interact online. What's required is a comprehensive solution to a very important privacy issue. The Future of Privacy Forum, which is funded by the online data industry, needs to be much more critical of the practices developed by its backers and partners. Otherwise, it will help ensure we have no privacy in the future.
Meanwhile, look at the bizarre approach the opt-out takes, requiring a consumer to become a data scientist before they can protect their privacy. The code has loopholes as well. And companies can tie user information dereived from locational tracking into their other databases. A focus also needs to be on what giants such as Google (Android) and Apple (iBeacon) are doing with locational tracking.