US consumer agency issues ad-tracking guidelines

US consumer protection body the Federal Trade Commission has backed a tightening of rules on internet advertising and the use of personal information. It has proposed stronger industry regulation of the tracking of users' habits.

The FTC expressed concern that data gathered under one privacy policy might be used differently if a company subsequently changes its policy. It said that firms should only change their processing of the information if they have the express permission of the consumer.

The proposals also mandate increased security for collected information. As the public becomes more sensitive about personal data loss by companies and the possibility of identity theft, the guidelines say that companies should be more careful with information.

"Any company that collects or stores consumer data for behavioral advertising should provide reasonable security for that data and should retain data only as long as is necessary to fulfil a legitimate business or law enforcement need," said the FTC.

The guidelines urge caution when collecting anything that might be deemed sensitive data, such as medical details or information about children's online activities. They say that such information should only be used with specific consent. The FTC has also asked for comment on a consultation on what kinds of information should be deemed sensitive.