Panelists Seek Opt-In Rule for Web Tracking
Los Angeles Times
July 18, 2008
A key House lawmaker said Thursday that Internet service
providers should be prohibited from tracking customers’
Web activities to deliver targeted ads without those
users’ clear approval.
The controversial practice, pioneered by Silicon Valley
start-up NebuAd Inc., has drawn fire from privacy
advocates. They say the technology, known as deep packet
inspection, raises major concerns and potentially
violates federal and state wiretapping laws.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House
telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, and four
other subcommittee members agreed the practice violated
customers’ privacy unless they specifically opt-in to
such a service.
Markey grilled NebuAd Chief Executive Robert Dykes
during a hearing Thursday about the company’s policies
and criticized its requirement that customers opt out of
the program if they do not want to be tracked.
“That’s basically saying silence is consent and as a
result you can do whatever you want with their
information,” Markey said. “I don’t think, unless you’ve
got clear affirmative permission, that you should be
able to take this incredible leap into the breaching of
the privacy of Americans.”
Markey said such an opt-in requirement should be
included in online privacy legislation he is working on.
NebuAd became the focus of congressional attention after
it partnered with some service providers to monitor
customers’ Web use. The largest was Charter
Communications Inc., which last month indefinitely
delayed a planned test of NebuAd’s service in some
markets after complaints from privacy advocates and
lawmakers, including Markey.
Dykes says his company protects privacy by developing
anonymous profiles of Web users in “certain innocuous
categories” such as travel. The company stays away from
sensitive information such as medical issues.
“To adopt an across-the-board opt-in rule would
potentially reduce the value of the advertising across
the Internet, so I think major harm could be incurred
that way,” Dykes said.
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