Senate's Hearing Prompts Pre-Briefing By BT Critics

gavelThe Senate Commerce Committee's hearing on Internet behavioral targeting scheduled for July 9 has prompted Public Knowledge, Free Press and Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) to hold a briefing the day prior to debate online tracking and technology that captures the Web-surfing behavior of consumers.

The CDT plans to brief the committee, rehash a report released in June and release legal analyses about NebuAd's services that suggest the arrangement between Internet service providers (ISPs) and ad networks to mine customer data for behavioral advertising could go against federal wiretap laws because the technology intercepts communications.

CDT spokesman Brock Meeks declined to detail the analysis, saying as of Wednesday that it was incomplete. Ari Schwartz, VP/COO for the CDT, and Robert M. Topolski, technical consultant for Public Knowledge/Free Press will discuss the groups' findings since publishing the report "NebuAd and Partner ISPs: Wiretapping, Forgery and Browser Hijacking" in June.



Art Brodsky, Public Knowledge spokesman, says: "We have seen video of the NebuAd CEO saying, 'Google knows what they do on your site, but we know everywhere you go, the sites you stop at and ads you see.' The problem is there's no opt-in or opt-out to these types of services."

The technology maps search and browsing activity of Web surfers through an ISP's network, rather than specific Web sites. The data is filtered and given to advertising networks to target consumers with ads. Brodsky hopes the Senate Commerce Committee will begin to pay more attention to this technology from NebuAd, Phorm, Adzilla and others.

This technology, which intercepts and modifies the contents of Internet packets using Transmission Control Protocol on Internet Protocol (TCP/I), makes it possible for brands--from Coca-Cola to Ford Motor Co.--to gain personal identifiable information.

Depending on the IP address, reverse IP look-ups allow ISPs to calculate the physical location of the personal computer used to surf the Web, according to Alissa Cooper, the CDT's chief computer scientist, who suggests that this model is possible for use through mobile carriers, too.

Technology offered by NebuAd to ISPs came under scrutiny last month after House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) warned cable operators against implementing advertising services similar to the technology Charter Communications had agreed to use to track subscribers through the Internet.

Another ISP, Centurytel, has turned its back on NebuAd's behavioral tracking ad platform. The company also put plans on hold after agreeing to deploy the technology. The move, prompted by requests from Markey and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), raises several red flags.

More than 3,200 U.S. adult Internet users made their attitudes toward online targeted ads clear in a recent TSN Global study commissioned by TRUSTe, "2008 Study: Consumer Attitudes About Behavioral Targeting." Results from the February study that appear in an eMarketer report reveal that 39.4% of survey participants are not comfortable with advertisers using their browsing history to serve up relevant ads, even if personal identifiable information cannot be tied to their name.

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