by Jeff Sovern
Here. The piece is by GW's Jeffrey Rosen and explores how online marketers gather and use information about consumers. Rosen describes how he visited different web sites using two different browsers, as a result of which one online marketer, BlueKai, created two inconsistent personae for him. BlueKai, incidentally, allows consumers to see what information it has collected on them here. But what about the marketers who don't give consumers such a right? Shouldn't Congress do for online marketing what it has done for credit reports in the FCRA–namely, give consumers the right to find out what is reported about them and correct errors? Certainly the errors in Rosen's online avatars suggests that such errors are common.
And then there's the discrimination risk. Such finely-targeted advertising raises the possibility that advertisers are treating different groups differently. Advertising presents opportunities. If some ethnic groups, for example, see some types of ads that others don't, does that create issues of discrimination? What if only whites see ads for Maui vacations, and a different ethnic group, say, sees ads for vacations in Atlanta? Congress enacted the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act to enable observers to determine if mortgage lenders are treating different groups differently. Perhaps we need something similar to see if advertisers are offering the same opportunities to different groups.