Consumer Groups Slam Behavioral Tracking

Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    A group of ten consumer groups on Tuesday called on Congress to enact meaningful privacy legislation, and slammed industry efforts as totally inadequate.

    The groups are most concerned about behavioral tracking, a technique used by Internet companies to serve up more targeted ads or results based on your Web
    browsing activities. Are you searching for information on Paris? You
    might see ads on the right-hand bar for travel deals or hotels, or
    links to blog posts about the French city.

    These groups, which include the Center for Digital Democracy,
    Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Watchdog,
    Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights
    Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and
    The World Privacy Forum, released several guidelines that they want Congress and regulatory agencies to take into consideration.

    The issue has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill for the last year, but
    there has yet to be a consensus on whether Congress should step in and
    pass a law about Internet privacy or if the industry can effectively
    police itself.

    Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Internet subcommittee, said in June that he and other committee members are interested in crafting legislation on the issue this year.

    In July, a group of media and marketing trade associations released guidelines that will require Internet service providers to get permission from users before they track their online behavior to serve up more targeted advertisements.

    Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at Consumer Federation of
    America, was not impressed. Those guidelines were "totally inadequate" because they do not safeguard sensitive information, she said during a conference call with reporters.

    The consumer and media groups are not in agreement about what sensitive
    information entails. In their proposal, the consumer groups want the
    Federal Trade Commission to define what constitutes sensitive
    information. The consumer groups consider it to be anything related to
    health, finances, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and political
    activities, said Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

    This type of information, the groups said, should not be collected for
    behavioral tracking or targeting. They also want marketing groups to
    stop collecting data on anyone under 18, not collect or use behavioral
    data for more than 24 hours without getting the individual’s
    affirmative consent, or use behavioral data to unfairly discriminate
    against people or in any way that would affect an individual’s credit, education, employment, insurance, or access to government benefits.

    The groups will be on Capitol Hill next week to present their ideas to members of Congress, they said.

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