The Office of Fair Trade (OFT) called last week for more transparency when it comes to online marketing – specifically the tracking of computer users’ internet and online spending habits to assist targeted advertising.
The watchdog published a new report last Tuesday which revealed the results of a seven-month study. The OFT report said that many systems used by online marketing firms rely on gauging the personal web usage of potential customers and targeting them with relevant advertising.
The report recommended that websites notify all users when it is harvesting data and make clear the purpose for which the data collection is taking place. Advertising that is personally targeted at the user should be clearly identified and users should be given the choice of opting out from any data collection.
The OFT said that at the moment it wishes to seek progress by speaking to leading industry figures and consumer groups to work through the problems and find a solution that gives customers adequate protection.
The study warned that unless the online marketing industry itself takes measures to improve privacy issues and the storage of data, then legislation may become necessary.
“Should industry action prove ineffective, the OFT and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) are strengthening the effectiveness of regulation by seeking a memorandum of understanding to establish in which circumstances the ICO or the OFT would take enforcement action,” it said.
One way that the law could be changed would be to tighten up the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations laws in order to prevent users misleading customers about the reason they are being directed to other sites.