Commentary

Lawmaker Presses AT&T On Behavioral Targeting

AT&T has spent much time in this last year criticizing behavioral targeting companies for their privacy policies. But in contrast to its public stance, the telecom's marketing department has apparently been working with behavioral targeting company Audience Science to sell AT&T products and services to Web users.

Yesterday, at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) attempted to question AT&T Chief Privacy Officer Dorothy Attwood about the company's use of behavioral targeting. But Attwood misunderstood the question and said that AT&T doesn't use deep packet inspection technology to power behavioral targeting.

Today, Eshoo sent a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson asking a series of pointed questions about AT&T's relationship with Audience Science. Not only does the lawmaker want to know whether AT&T uses Audience Science to advertise, but she also questions whether AT&T has asked advertiser partners "to be transparent to consumers about their data collection and use practices."

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Audience Science, like many companies that track people online and then serve ads based on sites visited, allows people to opt out of targeting. But the company does not first seek consumers' explicit consent.

That model remains legal -- and AT&T's relationship with Audience Science would not be an issue, except that AT&T has so publicly criticized the opt-out approach. Even yesterday, Attwood said in her written submission that AT&T would only provide information about subscribers' Web activity if it first obtained their consent -- a policy that she contrasted favorably to those of companies like Audience Science. She said AT&T's approach "differs materially from the default-based privacy policies that advertising networks and search engines -- which already are engaged in behavioral advertising -- currently employ."

1 comment about "Lawmaker Presses AT&T On Behavioral Targeting".
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  1. Robin Caller from LOLA GROVE, April 27, 2009 at 4:50 a.m.

    We completed an interesting interview with the CEO of Audience Science - which you can read here:
    http://www.goallover.net/?cat=204

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