Commentary

Congress Not Likely To Ban BT

Do lawmakers intend to ban online behavioral targeting? Some observers say there's a remote chance that the next Congress will introduce privacy legislation that outlaws behavioral targeting, both based on cookies and based on ISPs' use of deep-packet inspection.

In fact, there's little evidence that such legislation is even being contemplated, much less that it will be introduced and enacted. While Congress has addressed behavioral targeting this year, no lawmaker has even come close to indicating that the practice should be banned.

Instead, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts has gone on record as saying that ISP-based targeting -- what NebuAd had in mind, before it was forced to retreat -- should require opt-in consent. Markey also has said that companies engaged in network-based behavioral targeting, like Tacoda or Revenue Science, should allow users to opt out.

Either way, that's hardly a ban. Behavioral advertising companies that belong to the Network Advertising Initiative already allow users to opt out. What's more, representatives from three of the largest ISPs recently testified to lawmakers that they would only sell information about users' Web activity to marketers if users opted in.

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Some companies, including Microsoft, have gone on record as supporting new privacy laws, but none of the proposals that have been floated call for a prohibition on targeting.

Not even privacy advocates like the Center for Digital Democracy have called for a ban on targeting. Rather, they argue that companies should obtain people's consent before collecting information about them.

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