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Promoting Consumer Rights, Protecting Privacy, Ensuring Transparency, and Empowering the Public in the Digital Era
The new digital marketplace poses both opportunities and risks for consumers. As we increasingly makeimportant decisions about our finances, health, and families using digital media, consumers must be
treated fairly. Underneath the ease of discovering information online and buying new products or services is an ever- expanding set of largely invisible and powerful “Big Data”-driven practices that can pose a threat to our welfare and well-being. Today, personal information is collected online and off, usually withoutthe consumer’s knowledge or meaningful consent. We are tracked whether we are using personal computers, mobile phones, gaming devices, or making purchases with a credit or debit card. Our behaviors on websites and mobile devices, conversations using social media, our spending habits and our location are compiled into increasingly ubiquitous—but invisible to us—digital profiles. These electronic dossiers, filled with our personal details, are analyzed and then bought and sold to businesses in real time—mere milliseconds. Our profiles increasingly include e-scores that marketers use to identify what our “long-term value” may be, and which can influence the products we are offered, the prices we pay, and the customer service we receive.
Beyond the use of Big Data, consumers also confront a sophisticated new way to market and sell products using digital media. Marketers are able to influence our decision-making more precisely by using an array of techniques, including social surveillance—mining what we say and do and whom we communicate with on social media; geo-location analysis—knowing precisely where we are and go and what we do; and neuromarketing—using the latest insights on brain research to create interactive ads designed to drive greater unconscious decision-making.
Credit cards, mortgages, college loans, payday loans, and other financial services are increasingly offered online, including via mobile phones. The digital marketplace influences how consumers apply for and even what they pay for these products. The Center for Digital Democracy’s (CDD) mission is to protect the interests of all consumers, including the most vulnerable, in the 21st Century. It has exposed unfair and discriminatory practices, proposed new safeguards, and led to action by regulators.
Through its research, advocacy, public education, and other leadership activities, CDD stands up for the right of individuals—and their communities—to be treated fairly and equitably in the commercial digital marketplace.
The new media can be a boon to fostering healthy behaviors, including access to more information about drugs and lifestyle choices. But marketers also have the power to encourage the consumption of products and drugs that may be harmful to one's health. From investigating the online marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children and teens to analyzing the threats from digital marketing of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, CDD is working to promote global public health.
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Children and adolescents are at the epicenter of a powerful digital marketing system. Whether they are using mobile phones, on social networks, playing games, on the Web, and soon even while viewing TV, they are subjected to a wide range of data collection and advertising practices. From neuromarketing, to “immersive” multimedia, to stealth forms of social media surveillance and behavioral advertising, today’s youth—and their parents—confront a pervasive, non-transparent, and largely unaccountable commercial digital targeting system. Beyond privacy concerns, digital marketing focused on young people raise important public health and consumer protection concerns.
CDD has been at the forefront of efforts to protect the privacy of children and youth online, including leading the campaign that led to the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. COPPA became the landmark law that established important privacy safeguards for children under the age of 13. CDD has been working to extend age-appropriate safeguards to adolescents as well, including playing a leading role at the FTC. CDD has also been a leader in exploring and exposing the links between the youth obesity crisis and the online marketing of food and beverage products. Through advocacy, research, and public education, we are working to promote a more positive digital media environment for youth.