Legislators Apparently Unaware of Adblock Plus, TrackMeNot
Well, it’s about time. On Aug. 1, four top members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters ordering 33 cable and Internet companies, including Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), and Yahoo (YHOO), to explain in detail their privacy standards. Of particular concern to the Committee was “the growing trend of companies tailoring Internet advertising based on consumers’ Internet search, surfing or other use,” i.e., behavioral targeting.
To date, 27of the 33 have responded, among them Google and Yahoo, whose replies are of particular interest given the proposed advertising deal between them. In response to the Committee’s query, Yahoo admitted it did engage in some form of behavioral targeting, but volunteered that it would henceforth allow users to turn off targeted advertising on its Web sites.
Yahoo claims it had been planning this revision to its policy for months. What a happy coincidence that it was enacted in time to be included in the company’s letter to the Committee.
Google also acknowledged using targeted-advertising technology without explicitly informing customers–hence, its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick. And it too suddenly offered its users a way to opt out of targeted advertising. Another happy coincidence, I suppose, in the works for months and entirely unrelated to the company’s pact with Yahoo, which would reportedly grant Google control over more than 80 percent of the search market.
Still, it’s good news for consumers–or rather those consumers who actually pay attention to such things. And for those who don’t, a word of advice: It might be time to start. Because Google, which already controls more than 70 percent of the search market in the states, clearly sees quite a bit of behavioral targeting in all our futures. “Though it is not the focus of our business today, we also believe that behavioral advertising can be done in ways that are responsible and protective of consumer privacy and the security of consumers’ information,” Google wrote in its letter to the Committee. “To ensure the continuation and proliferation of responsible behavioral targeting practices, we are supportive of efforts to establish strong self-regulatory principles for online advertising that involves the collection of user data for the purpose of creating behavioral and demographic profiles.”