Internet Providers Respond to Congressional Spying Inquiries

August 15, 2008 03:41 PM
by Josh Katz
Congress is investigating the extent to which ISPs monitor the activities of their customers, after Charter Communications generated a privacy controversy several months ago.

30-Second Summary

Thirty-three of 34 ISPs and portals have responded to inquires from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Seven ISPs claimed that they have started testing a controversial NebuAd service that monitors the activities of its customers, while Microsoft has not yet answered Congress.

In June, Charter, the fourth-largest internet service provider in the United States, put a hold on a plan to track the online activities of customers and share the information with NebuAd, a firm that customizes online advertising to the audience. Ads that are more targeted—and therefore presumably more effective—can bring in greater revenue.

Then in early July, MediaPost reported that ISPs CenturyTel and Embarq, which have about 500,000 and 1.3 million customers respectively, also distanced themselves from NebuAd.

Out of all the companies that replied, AT&T appears the most enthusiastic to try the technology. Dorothy Attwood, the company’s senior vice president for public policy, said the monitoring “could prove quite valuable to consumers and could dramatically improve their online experiences, while at the same time protecting their privacy.”

Meanwhile a similar debate over Internet privacy has been taking place in Europe, where the ISP Phorm was also tracking sites that users view to mold customized advertising.

Headline Links: Companies respond to Congress

Background: Companies distance themselves from NebuAd; Charter delays plans; Congress examines Charter ad campaign

Opinion & Analysis: Is opting out of NebuAd’s ‘sniffer’ enough?

Related Topics: Phorm and Facebook

Reference: Guide to Internet privacy


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