Marketers recite the benefits of mobile tracking like a mantra: It helps give consumers the information they want at the exact time and place they want and need it. What's not to like?

No matter how hard they try, however, today's cross-channel digital marketers can't quite escape the "creepy" factor — the concern corporations have too much information on the who, what, where and when of our lives.

That point was driven home very gently yesterday as Jessica Rich, director of the bureau of consumer protection for the Federal Trade Commission, delivered a speech to the annual summit of the Digital Advertising Alliance. The speech contained plenty of plaudits, but also exhortations to "press forward" with self-regulatory efforts that will make it easy for consumers to opt-out of tracking and data collection entirely.

The Big Three


In particular, she cited three areas of current focus: big data, mobile technologies and managing sensitive information.

Big data can help consumers, but also can cause problems. "When companies collect, store and share information about individual consumers, especially invisibly, it raises concerns," she said, adding that the commission will use its enforcement powers to go after companies that act inappropriately. "For obvious reasons, we're not waiting for Congress to pass a new law."

"Mobile also raises some new issues," she said. "The ability of these devices to track your location really raises special consumer protection concerns." For example, she expressed concern about the ability of mobile devices to connect with each other in the Internet of Things, and the limits of small-screen or no-screen devices to inform consumers of their right to opt-out of data collection.

Another concern: Rich pointed to a recent FTC settlement over kids' apps that collected data from the mobile devices of children without disclosure. The data included their precise location and phone numbers.

That explanation bled into managing sensitive information, especially with regards to children, finance, health and geolocation. The FTC has already pursued 53 settlements against companies like Microsoft, DSW, LifeLock and Rite-Aid to halt what it perceived as abuses.

Location-Based Concerns

Geolocation, which helps marketer target ads by tracking the exact location of consumers, can also show where people worship, what political groups they visit, the routes kids take to school and other information. "It's really our strong position that precise geolocation is sensitive information that requires opt-in consent because it can show so much about a person," said Rich.