Commentary

Congress Calls Hearings On BT And Privacy

Privacy is taking center stage in Capitol Hill this month, with one hearing in the House slated for tomorrow afternoon and one in the Senate scheduled for Tuesday.

The House hearing is expected to focus on a bill proposed this week by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) as well as a draft floated in May by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.). Both lawmakers would require ad networks to obtain users' consent before collecting and sharing data used for behavioral targeting, but also would allow consent to be opt-out in many circumstances.

While the Boucher and Rush proposals are largely geared toward online behavioral advertising -- or tracking users across the Web in order to serve them targeted ads -- politicians also appear ready to tackle data collection and use in a broader sense.

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The Democratic briefing memo lists a series of recent privacy snafus that have little to do with behavioral targeting, including Google's launch of Buzz, Facebook's revisions to its privacy settings, Google's collection of payload data from WiFi networks, and Sears' alleged installation of tracking software without proper notice.

The briefing memo is also notable because it shows that discussions about online privacy are shifting from security issues like identity theft and toward the potential harms of compiling supposedly "anonymous" profiles.

"Privacy concerns range from being subjected to unwanted marketing to being denied goods or services based on a profile," the memo says. "The use or misuse of sensitive information such as health information also could embarrass consumers, impact their employment, or lead to other problems. Other concerns have also been raised that consumers will unknowingly be 'boxed' into categories based on past behavior and that their choices, and the information presented to them, will be limited as a result."

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