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My chat with Rep. Boucher on his privacy bill

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) thinks a key to economic growth is online commerce, so he’s trying to promote targeted advertising on the Web to get people to open their wallets and spur the creation of more small Internet companies selling goods and services.

To that end, he’s planning to wade into the controversial issue of behavioral advertising with a bill he’ll circulate to other lawmakers before the end of the month that’s a mix of different processes for how companies can track information about users.

In a recent interview, Boucher, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, talked about a range of issues, including net neutrality and broadband deployment to rural areas. “FCC Chairman [Julius] Genachowski is absolutely right to introduce new principles for an open Internet,” he said, adding that Blair Levin, head of the broadband national planning process at the agency is doing a “terrific job.”

As for his own push for privacy, he said his bill will set guidelines for users and companies that attempts to be a “measured approach” to the contentious issue.

“Targeted advertising has great value and encourages more Web traffic,” Boucher said. “The goal is for people to use the Internet more and trust it more by giving a clear sense that the Internet is secure.”

Boucher said the de facto practice will be for Internet companies to gather information about users' preferences and Web habits for targeted advertising. A user will have to expressly opt out of that standard if he or she doesn't want Google and other Web companies to see if he or she is buying diapers every week so they can sell ads for that user to also sell baby lotion. But on the collection of most sensitive personal information – financial, medical, and location-based information, for example – a company will have to get express permission by a user clicking on an opt-in feature.

He said the guidelines will be concise for users. But privacy advocates say the default should be for consumers to opt in only when they want information tracked. And they argue a hodgepodge of guidelines will add to confusion for users.

To Boucher, the potential economic gains are overwhelming.

“If not for the ability to target advertising for Internet users, there would not be as much free content. The Post would not be able to be offered for free.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 23, 2009; 12:19 PM ET
 
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Comments

While I understand the thought process, the internet is a global resource. Opening up rules to help the economy won't necessarily help the US. All it takes is another company, outside the US, to show up on the advertising scene and turn into the next Google.

Allowing an opt-out feature is fine, but it won't work unless the government fights against companies that cause problems.

Posted by: Protocol16 | October 24, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

In other words, Boucher is for "network neutrality" -- a non-solution to a non-problem -- but is against reining in companies that spy on Internet users and track them via spyware cookies.

Funny: this is Google's agenda exactly.

Posted by: squirma | October 25, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Only the sites visited should be able to advertise to the person or entity that used the site. Other than that, ther should not be any information being advertised by sited not visited. Does this make sense? I am totally lost when it comes to internets and computers and stuff.

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | October 26, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

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