PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will hosting a workshop this November to examine the privacy issues surrounding the practice of “cross-device tracking," which the FTC describes as “the tracking of consumers' activities across their different devices for advertising and marketing purposes.”

Prior to this workshop, the FTC will be collecting public comments on the matter through mid-October.

Pretty much everyone with any type of Internet connection knows about tracking cookies and has seen them in use, too: they're the reason anybody who searches for or reads information about Niftywidgets will start seeing Niftywidget ads on every subsequent website they visit.

But cookies are device-specific: the cookies on your laptop won't put Niftywidget ads on your smartphone and tablet, or vice versa.

Integrated activities

Of course, various tech companies and advertisers would like to change that. Last September, for example, Facebook announced its introduction of a new advertising program called Atlas, which marketers and advertisers liked for its ability to “integrate” your online activity across multiple devices: if you use your smartphone to look at items on, then the next time you visit Facebook on your laptop or other non-smartphone device, you'll see Niftywidget ads in your feed.

This is the sort of cross-device tracking the FTC intends to discuss at its Nov. 16 workshop. As the FTC's statement explains:

The use of multiple devices creates a challenge for companies that want to reach these consumers with relevant advertising.  The traditional method of using cookies to track consumers’ online activities are proving to be less effective. A cookie may not provide  a complete picture of a consumer who uses different web browsers at home, at work and on their mobile device, for example.

Industry has adopted different approaches to address this issue [including] … methods that rely on various characteristics about a user to match their behavior from one device to another – often without the consumers’ awareness or control.

The FTC’s workshop seeks to address a number of questions about the potential benefits to consumers of effective cross-device tracking, as well as to examine the potential privacy and security risks.

The FTC will also be seeking comment from members of the public until Oct. 16. Comments can be submitted online here.

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