ISPs Promise: We Won't Track You without Permission
At a hearing today before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, officials from AT&T and Verizon are expected to pledge that they will not engage in tracking customers' online behavior without their explicit consent.
The move comes after a furor over some smaller ISPs using "deep packet inspection" - essentially reading Internet transmissions in order to learn the interests of their customers.
"We encourage all companies that engage in online behavioral advertising - regardless of the nature of their business models or the technologies they utilize - likewise to adopt this affirmative-advance-consent paradigm," according to the prepared statement of Dorothy Attwood, senior vice president, public policy and chief privacy officer of AT&T.
The upshot here is that the battle lines in the looming legislative confrontation over online advertising - $20 billion-plus industry in the U.S. - are becoming clearer.
Google, Microsoft and most other Web companies have pushed for an "opt out" system - that is, customers may be tracked until they affirmatively opt out. In practice, only a small percentage of customers do so.
But At&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable are pressing Congress to institute much tougher rules that would force companies to have customers to "opt in" for any kind of tracking or behavioral targeting.
September 25, 2008; 10:13 AM ET
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