Wading Through the Tech-ade
This morning the FTC kicked off Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade, a three-day series of hearings about technology and consumer protection during the next ten years. Today's sessions covered a wide range of topics, from broadband access and device convergence to advertising and content delivery. One major theme that emerged at the hearings today was the idea of consumer control. Jon Bates, Director of Market Research at the Consumer Electronic Association described it as the "what I want, where I want, when I want it" philosophy. He envisions that in the future consumers will increasingly have access to uniquely tailored information and content on the device or at the location of their choosing. This will also carry over into the marketing space, where advertisers will be forced to take advantage of new, individualized delivery channels as traditional broadcast networks lose ground to new communications mediums. As Alan Schulman of the marketing firm Brand New World noted, consumers gain control as Hollywood loses it. Perhaps most importantly for CDT, this control may also extend to consumers' own information that they share in the course of their online experiences. Microsoft's Peter Cullen put forth the premise that in the future access to information will have to be designed with consumer control in mind. Let's hope that one proves to be true. The Tech-ade event also brought some great news on the adware front. Following the FTC's landmark settlement with adware distributor Zango, FTC Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz announced that the agency will be sending letters to many of the CEOs of companies that have used Zango to display ads, with copies of the settlement attached. This will be a key step in encouraging marketers to take responsibility for where their ads show up online. As the Commissioner noted, the letters will surely be effective, but perhaps not as effective as a front page news story highlighting advertisers that use nuisance or harmful adware (or as reports such as Following the Money I). This is just one more step in the process of identifying advertisers fueling the adware problem and compelling them to take more responsibility. In the afternoon, CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz participated on a panel concerning the future of communications and how privacy and security will be impacted by changes in the way people communicate. Ari stressed that the future of communications is going to involve in large part the ability to sync data together across a variety of devices and platforms. While we are experiencing device convergence - phones that are also MP3 players, game consoles that can also be used to chat on the Internet - we will still need to coordinate our lives across several devices in the future. Despite these changes, new privacy and security threats will be based on old threats. Old scams that we are all now familiar with will be updated to take advantage of new technologies, but at their base they will operate on the same principles. More to come tomorrow, as the Tech-ade delves deeper into upcoming issues such as RFID.