"Audience Science is one of a number of online marketing firms that assist AT&T in reaching potential customers and placing AT&T's advertisements on other website," writes chief privacy officer Dorothy Attwood.
But Attwood's response is more notable for what it doesn't say. Eshoo had asked whether AT&T has asked advertiser partners "to be transparent to consumers about their data collection and use practices." That question was clearly in response to AT&T's public position that all companies that engage in behavioral targeting should first obtain users' explicit consent.
The telecom's slick answer: "AT&T has not just called on its advertising partners to improve transparency and control for consumers. Rather, we have called on the entire online advertising ecosystem -- including advertising networks, search engines, ISPs, advertisers and publishers -- to adopt a unified, consumer-centric policy framework built on a foundation of transparency, consumer control, privacy protection, and consumer value."
That's all well and good, but one would think that AT&T would have more leverage to call on a company it hires, like Audience Science, than the overall online ad ecosystem. In fact, if AT&T is in a position to persuade any company to change its policies, that company would be Audience Science. Yet nothing in AT&T's answer suggests that the telecom has even hinted to Audience Science that it should do more to notify Web users about behavioral targeting.
To be clear, there's nothing illegal about Audience Science's practices. The company, like many other cookie-based ad networks, notifies users that it tracks them anonymously and serves them targeted ads. Audience Science also allows people to opt out of such ads at its own site and via the Network Advertising Initiative.
If AT&T hadn't so vocally criticized cookie-based behavioral targeting, its relationship with Audience Science wouldn't have become an issue. Apparently, however, AT&T is content to espouse that opinion without actually trying to implement it.