With a recent fine slapped on TV manufacturer Vizio for collecting the viewing histories of millions of people without their consent, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is moving to ensure audiences know plenty more about how their data is being used.
Last month the FTC published a staff report on how publishers track consumer data across devices. The conclusion was on the mind of Neustar chief privacy officer Becky Burr, whose company helps unify customer data sets across channels when she recently spoke to Beet TV.
According to Burr, it is increasingly harder for people to understand how to control their privacy and it is also easy to see that data about them is being used.
"Neustar deals with rich data and identity and we are well aware of the privacy issues," she said.
Burr also noted that the ecosystems are very complex, and somehow the entire media ecosystem has to work together better so that the right disclosures are being made.
"We need to develop more standardized ways of describing what is happening. We need to give users more information and more control. That is the challenge... we don't want to screw it up," she added. "We want to be thoughtful and respectful about data and we need to think carefully in advance. We don't want to do something that causes a clampdown on availability."
The challenges around cross-device tracking have emerged because, while the age of desktop internet saw targeting executed largely by web browser cookie, the era in which a single consumer now uses multiple such devices requires more advanced techniques.
Joining up the data streams left by distinct devices is a job for companies like Neustar – an outfit that was bought for $3bn late last year. But the tone of the FTC’s report is to warn such companies to play by the rules, plus give consumers more visibility and choice about how their data is used in a multi-device world.
The FTC’s report concluded: “It is important that consumers are informed and able to control tracking that occurs across their devices... Entities with direct consumer-facing relationships and those engaging in cross-device tracking (should) be transparent about their data collection and use practices; improve choice mechanisms to provide consumers' control over their data; provide heightened protections for sensitive data."
Burr was speaking at Mobile World Congress, a trade show hosted in Barcelona, that focuses on telcos' operations, and this year the rising tide of data privacy is a prominent topic of conversation on the show floor – not least because of the upcoming implementation of GDPR across the European Union.