Turns out, Big Brother IS watching

It seems the brouhaha over NebuAd and its targeted advertising based on web-user tracking that made headlines last month was really just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the largest Internet and broadband companies this week informed a Congressional subcommittee that, "oh, yeah, we've been watching" web surfers for quite awhile, some to a much deeper level than others. And several said they had been using the information--without getting consumers' approval--to send users targeted advertising.

Twenty-five responses to an Aug. 1 letter sent by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to 33 companies were posted on the committee's website yesterday.

Privacy advocates want Congress to establish guidelines for online tracking and they-as well as several lawmakers-said the company responses will help build a case for oversight.

"Increasingly, there are no limits technologically as to what a company can do in terms of collecting information . . . and then selling it as a commodity to other providers," committee member Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) told the Washington Post. "Our responsibility is to make sure that we create a law that, regardless of the technology, includes a set of legal guarantees that consumers have with respect to their information."

Markey said he and his colleagues plan to introduce legislation next year, a sort of online-privacy Bill of Rights, that would require that consumers must opt in to the tracking of their online behavior and the collection and sharing of their personal data.

Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Post lawmakers were beginning to understand the convergence of 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."

For more:
- See the Washington Post story

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