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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.

By Peter Whoriskey  |  September 25, 2008; 10:13 AM ET  | Category:  Peter Whoriskey
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Opt-in is the only reasonable option.

Posted by: Pagun | September 25, 2008 11:44 AM

Opt-in, what a concept!!!! Imagine what life would be like if we could opt-in for things like postal junk mail. We would have a lot of out of work postal workers. Of course all the savings would cause a further slowing of the economy (printing, delivery, disposal)...

Napster should have taken that approach in 2000 instead of trying to screen out songs in their file sharing scheme, "screen-in" songs that artist allowed. The face of music sharing would have been far different today...

Posted by: gns100 | September 25, 2008 3:28 PM

These ISPs are LISTENING to my CONVERSATIONS with websites, people, etc. and are taking actions based on what they 'hear'.

Isn't that kind of activity covered under current law (i.e. wiretapping and/or electronic eavesdropping)?? Are there any lawyers out there who want in on this?

I think the ONLY reason AT&T, Verizon etc. are 'Opt-in' is to protect themselves from the potential litigation of 'listening' to their customers' communications.

Posted by: Dennis | September 25, 2008 4:29 PM

It's certainly an exciting day in web privacy. While I'm happy with the moves towards more secure ISPs -- you have to wonder how secure we really are when only 3/4 of the countries' largest ISP providers are agreeing to these terms. Posted some thoughts just now at

Posted by: Mark Smith | September 25, 2008 6:20 PM

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