Commentary

Hearing: Congress Nervous About Privacy, But Iffy On BT Laws

Seems like some lawmakers aren't big fans of behavioral targeting techniques these days.

At a Congressional hearing this morning about privacy, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he "hits the delete button" every few days to erase cookies. "The information about myself is mine," he said. "Unless I choose to share it, I would just as soon it stay as my information only."

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) agreed that no one should use information about his Web activity without his permission. "When you make a phone call," he says, "you don't expect AT&T or Verizon to share that information with someone else."

Upton then compared visiting a Web site to making a phone call, saying that when he orders a pizza, he doesn't anticipate that the phone company will share that information with other pizza places so they can start marketing to him.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) reiterated in his opening remarks that he intends to introduce legislation. The details, however, appear hazy. Boucher floated the proposal of requiring opt-out consent for "first party use" of information as well as use by "third parties or subsidiaries who are part of the company's normal first party marketing operations, or without whom the company could not provide its service." He additionally proposed that opt-in consent should be required before third parties could use information for their "own marketing purposes."

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But Boucher didn't elaborate on what type of companies he would consider to be "part of the company's normal first party marketing operations."

He also said those categories weren't ironclad and solicited opinions on whether he had "suggested a workable line between opt-in and opt-out consent."

Of course, it's not at all certain that legislation -- by Boucher or anyone else -- will be enacted.

While there was some hand-wringing this morning about transparency, consumer choice and who owns what data, some lawmakers seemed unenthusiastic about legislation. Even Barton, for all his rhetoric, said he'd rather see industry self-regulation than new laws.

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