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Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent

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Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice stressed that the data are gathered exclusively for advertising on that site.

In their letters, Broadband providers Knology and Cable One acknowledged that they recently ran tests using deep-packet-inspection technology provided by NebuAd to see whether it could help them serve up more relevant ads, but their customers were not explicitly alerted to the test. Cable One is owned by The Washington Post Co.

Both companies said that no personally identifiable information was used and that they have ended the trials. Cable One has no plans to adopt the technology, spokeswoman Melany Stroupe said. "However, if we do," she said, "we want people to be able to opt in."

Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said lawmakers are beginning to understand the convergence across platforms. "People are starting to see: 'Oh, we have these different industries that are collecting the same types of information to profile individuals and the devices they use on the network," he said. "Internet. Cellphones. Cable. Any way you tap into the network, concerns are raised."

Markey said yesterday that any legislation should generally require explicitly informing the consumer of the type of information that is being gathered and any intent to use it for a different purpose, and a right to say 'no' to the collection or use.

The push for overarching legislation is bipartisan. "A broad approach to protecting people's online privacy seems both desirable and inevitable," Barton said. "Advertisers and data collectors who record where customers go and what they do want profit at the expense of privacy."

As of yesterday evening, the committee had posted letters from 25 companies on its Web site.


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