"Embarq followed the industry practices of the most similar business model, that of online advertising networks," David Zesiger, Embarq senior vice president, regulatory policy and external affairs, wrote to Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). "It appears that industry standards in this area are evolving rapidly toward a more robust form of notice and choice."
Last week, the lawmakers wrote to the Overland Park, Kan.-based Embarq to ask whether the company tested NebuAd's platform without directly notifying subscribers. "Surreptitiously tracking individual users' Internet activity cuts to the heart of consumer privacy," Markey said at the time. "Embarq's apparent use of this technology without directly notifying affected customers that their activity was being tracked, collected, and analyzed raises serious privacy red flags."
NebuAd's behavioral targeting platform draws on information about Web users' activity gathered by their Internet service providers. Redwood City, Calif.-based NebuAd says it does not store personally identifiable information, and that people can opt out of receiving targeted ads. But privacy advocates are still concerned. They say that Internet service provider-based targeting is potentially more threatening than older forms of Web targeting--given that ISPs have access to users' entire clickstream data, including all sites visited and search queries. With such vast quantities of information, it's sometimes possible to identify people without even knowing their names.
Embarq's letter is not likely to be the final word on the matter. Last week, several Congress members, including Markey, said that Internet service based-targeting should require opt-in consent.